With the Coronavirus (COVID-19 / 2019-nCov) being the subject of much discussion over the past weeks, travellers have been concerned about their holiday departures and travel plans abroad. Since it is certainly better to be vigilant about matters such as safety and health, we have interviewed some of our expatriate team members in Asia with the aim of presenting a report on the current situation from those on the ground.
Based in Vietnam, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Amandine, William and Pablo share with us their opinions over these last weeks regarding their experiences living in Asia and the questions and concerns of their travellers. Jérémy Grasset, Director of Shanti Travel, passing through Colombo and Delhi, also explains the situation and his experiences at the various airports.
1. Can you introduce yourself and tell us briefly about your experience in Asia? How long have you been an expat in this region?
AMANDINE: My name is Amandine and I manage our team of Travel Experts in the emerging destinations in Southeast Asia. My passion for adventure and travel pushed me to make my dream of settling in different paradisiac corners of the globe come true. I moved abroad for the first time in 2013 to Cambodia, almost 7 years ago. I am now based in Hanoi, an effervescent city that I continue to discover on a daily basis, even after 3 years spent there. Before Hanoi, I also lived in Thailand and Myanmar.
WILLIAM: My name is William and I am in charge of our local office in Indonesia. At 18, I moved abroad to live in the United States which was a very enriching experience that allowed me to learn about different cultures and also about myself. Subsequently I had the opportunity to live in French Polynesia, Switzerland, Germany and more recently in Asia. After spending a year in Singapore and 2 years in Thailand, I discovered Indonesia, which I now consider my second home. Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and offers landscapes as surprising as they are unique. After almost two years in Bali, I remain in perpetual admiration for the beauty of the rice fields and the numerous temples in particular, but also the warm atmosphere that reigns here.
PABLO: My name is Pablo and I have been living in Asia for almost 3 and a half years. I spent my childhood in New Caledonia, between countryside and lagoons of turquoise water. Since my parents are both frequent travellers, I have always enjoyed discovering new places since my childhood. After studying in France and pursuing a professional career in Spain, I wanted to discover new horizons. Having read about Sri Lanka in many books, I did not think twice about moving here to discover this magnificent country.
2. How do you see the coronavirus epidemic unfolding in recent months, do you feel concerned by the situation today?
AMANDINE: I feel doubly concerned by this epidemic, both as a citizen of the world and as a travel agent. I take great efforts to protect myself from the virus on a daily basis and to provide the best possible support to our travelers so that they can travel in complete safety and peace of mind.
WILLIAM: Obviously I feel very concerned by this epidemic and particularly with regard to our travelers. Traveling should be a pleasure and a great experience, not a fear. It is thus very important to me to ensure the safety and well-being of the people traveling with us.
PABLO: I think that there is good international coordination, and that by respecting basic hygiene measures and also the recommendations of our embassies, there is nothing major to worry about. Like the winter flu or dengue fever, you have to protect yourself and avoid high-risk situations.
3. What precautions have the government(s) at your destination(s) taken and how does this affect your daily life?
AMANDINE: Here in Vietnam, the government took preventive measures very quickly. Just a few days after the announcement of the epidemic there was increased communication on preventive measures, suspension of schools, free distribution of masks, thermal checks at the airports, quarantines of suspected cases, cancellation of cultural and social events, closure of certain tourist sites, and so on, in order to take no risk and not to spread the epidemic.
WILLIAM: Indonesia’s economy depends largely on tourism and therefore the government takes the situation very seriously and understand the importance of heightened security measures. The government has invested heavily in recent years to keep travelers safe, and since the start of the epidemic, controls have also been tightened and no cases of the virus have been found in Indonesia to date. My daily life has not changed, I just make sure to respect basic hygiene rules, just like I would in the winter in France.
PABLO: In Sri Lanka, visas from China have been temporarily stopped, and there are thermal imagers on arrival at the airports, in addition to the usual sanitary measures. The Sri Lankan authorities reacted very quickly to this phenomenon and immediately took steps to prevent its spread. The WHO has also congratulated Sri Lanka for the professional measures taken against this virus.
JÉRÉMY: I have just come back from a trip to India and Sri Lanka in early February. While India has reported two cases in Kerala, given its population of 1.3 billion inhabitants, we can consider that this is still a very small percentage. The Indian health system is well established and heightened safety measures have been taken. Visitors from China or countries with the virus undergo more rigid checks at the airport. While visiting Sri Lanka, I had to fill out a health card and all travellers have to pass thermal cameras as Pablo says. On the other hand, it is a big concern for Sri Lanka’s economy. The country will be strongly affected if travellers stop coming, especially so soon after the events in Colombo, when the country’s economy is still recovering.
4. Finally, what advice would you like to offer to travelers planning a trip to Asia?
AMANDINE: My advice would be to adopt the “standard” rules to protect yourself from viruses: wash your hands regularly, wear a mask outside, and avoid crowded places (opt for outdoor excursions rather than indoor activities). Finally, for the reservation of your flights and travel plans in the weeks to come, it is better to avoid Chinese airlines which have been cancelling their flights as a safety measure. Also, do not forget (as with all your travels) to take travel insurance. We recommend that of Chapka Cap Explorer, which provides coverage in the event of an epidemic.
WILLIAM: I think it is important, whether you travel to Europe, the United States or Asia, to always stay alert and organized. In fact, purchasing travel insurance before going abroad is a necessary step for me. In addition, we put all our local agency expertise at your service to avoid any inconvenience during your stay; in the event that anything should happen, we will be physically at your side to help resolve them.
PABLO: Follow the recommendations of the local authorities as well as that of your embassy. Sri Lanka remains very safe, and as long as visitors follow the precautionary measures, I am confident that we can continue to travel without any issues.