Anticipated to have great potential for reopening international travel, destinations in Southeast Asia may consider attracting the increasing number of digital nomads since the pandemic to come for work and living by transformation into workation destinations.

Most countries closed their borders to curb the disease since the pandemic and once they had basically controlled the situation, some global and Asian destinations such as those in the Caribbean (Palma and Dominica), the Maldives or UAE reopened their borders to international travelers, especially those who want to stay for a long time, to maintain their public health while reviving the tourism industry. From the successes of these countries, opening up to long-stay travelers could be a wise choice for the start of resuming international travel.

Developed based on the model of work from home, work from hotel/resort or workation, which, in general, combines work and vacation, is a rising trend thanks to the working flexibility it offers to travelers, helping them enjoy the feeling of a long trip while making a living remotely.

As vaccine passports are not yet to be deployed on a large scale (both worldwide or region-wide), adjusting to becoming workation destinations may be the threshold for Southeast Asian countries to attract international travelers, especially those who have the ability to work remotely (also known as digital nomads).

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What makes Southeast Asian countries suitable for developing into workation destinations?

On many platforms for digital nomads, Asian countries such as Indonesia, Maldives, and Thailand are always highly recommended destinations for long-term work thanks to their open policies for foreign tourists. First, in terms of geography, countries in Southeast Asia as well as in Asia are usually granted with warm tropical climates with many beautiful bays. At the same time, each country here has various beautiful islands such as the Maldives with countless islands scattered in the archipelago, Thailand with Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Koh Lanta, the Philippines with Cebu and Manila, or Indonesia with Bali and Lombok.

Thanks to this geographically favorable feature, the destination can deploy quarantine travel (in which visitors quarantine and travel at the same time) or resort bubble (in which travelers move from one hotel/resort to another provided the two allow them to without quarantine). Currently, Thailand has piloted a number of quarantine travel projects such as golf quarantine, villa quarantine or yacht quarantine. In addition, Vietnam is also considering a quarantine travel pilot in Phu Quoc. If the combination of these quarantine travel projects with workation is feasible, the destinations are more likely to attract a large number of international visitors, especially with enormous pent-up demand, to come to live and work.

Second, most destinations have coworking areas. In Chiang Mai or Phuket (Thailand) and Bali (Indonesia), finding an ideal workspace and a digital nomad community is not difficult for travelers. This is also available in many tranquil and non-touristy islands like Koh Lanta or Koh Phangan (Thailand).

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Even if there are not many coworking spaces, hotels or resorts in the destination can launch workation packages, in which hotels or resorts offer special deals for long-term (weekly or monthly) bookings at a cheaper rate than the average night rate, along with certain services such as stable wifi, complimentary breakfast or access to some amenities. The Maldives, for example, currently does not have any coworking spaces, so the hotels and resorts there like The Nautilus Maldives, Soneva Fushi or Anantara Dhigu have tailored workation packages at competitive prices to attract travelers.

Finally, the cost of living in Southeast Asian countries fluctuates but still is affordable for digital nomads, especially those from Europe or America. With their normal income, it is totally possible to rent long-term hotel rooms and enjoy their new and exciting “workplace”.

Some challenges ahead

Dubai is one of the destinations in Asia that have a digital nomad visa which allows digital nomads to enter, even bring families, to live here and work remotely for their company in the original country for a year. Better yet, Dubai also does not levy personal income taxes on these digital nomads even though they can take advantage of the services such as telecommunications or education within the country.

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Meanwhile, most destinations in Southeast Asia do not have a proper workation visa program for digital nomads as they are mostly freelancers or working for tech-based companies, so they do not have the required work permit.

In Thailand, there is a work visa program called SMART Visa for up to four year stays. However, only highly qualified individuals that have certificates of their high income are eligible for the program. In Indonesia, there are also special tourist visa programs for long stays such as Social Visa, Tourist Visa and Cultural Visa, allowing visitors to stay up to 60 days and can be extended for 3 more times, for another 30 days each. However, these are all tourist visas, which means they do not allow travelers to work in the country.

For Vietnam, to pilot opening Phu Quoc as a workation destination to digital nomads, the DMOs or authorities may consider the digital nomad visa like Dubai is doing besides the current tourist visas (for one- to three-month stay). However, this will put some pressure on the health and medical facilities of the island, especially when the vaccination program is still not widely deployed as Vietnam is still cautious to ensure that there are no more outbreaks from abroad.

Source: Destination Review 

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