1. Thank you, Your Excellencies, Dr Thong Khon and Dato Lim Jock Hoi, for your leadership.
2. The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to our countries and our people. Our concern is, with uneven containment and mitigation measures adopted by countries worldwide, this pandemic will likely have recurring waves, resulting in prolonged disruptions in travel.
3. Just as we did during SARS and other crises, we must once again rise to these challenges by working together as a cohesive and united ASEAN.
4. However, tourism will likely not be the same again; we have to expect and prepare for a new normal. We expect that this experience will reshape the habits and perceptions of travellers, who will now demand higher standards in hygiene and health, and greater transparency in information sharing.
5. In the meantime, we must help our industries and workers to adapt and sustain themselves through this difficult period by supporting capability development and protecting jobs.
6. Through our collective efforts and determination in stemming the spread of the virus, we are optimistic that we will be able to control and stabilise the situation. Once that happens, we should work together to declare the region free of COVID-19 and open our borders to travel once again.
7. To achieve this goal, we must come together as one ASEAN and achieve three things:
a. First, we must elevate and synchronise our standards in health and hygiene, for mutual assurance and boost confidence in the region.
i. We should formulate and implement standardised health declarations and standard operating procedures for handling of public health emergencies and sharing of information, to bolster our health preparedness.
ii. Having standardised health ratings and standards for individuals will provide a common basis to assess the health status of travelers from countries, facilitating access for “green lane” to safely resume travel.
iii. We should also collectively step up our hygiene standards. Within Singapore, we have implemented the Singapore Clean campaign, where we instil best practices for hygiene in our consumer-facing establishments, and audit to ensure compliance.
iv. We are also planning to work with aviation and cruise sectors to step up hygiene standards in their operations, in order to restore consumers’ confidence to travel again.
b. Second, we think that ASEAN will need to continue to build up and promote Southeast Asia as a single destination. I cannot agree more with Brunei Minister H.E. Dato Ali Apong’s suggestion that our ease of connectivity is a major strength. This has helped to draw many travellers to this region, with many group travellers taking in the sights of more than one country for each trip. When people perceive us individually, they also look at us collectively to see if it is safe to travel again.
i. We should work together on joint marketing and promotional activities, to build awareness of the region as a top-of-mind destination in preparation for recovery.
ii. To reduce barriers for travel within the region, we can work on streamlining our visa processes and requirements.
iii. When we are ready to resume travel, the landing rights of each ASEAN Member State and dialogue partner should be reinstated, and we should open sea ports and land check-points promptly, in order to restore connectivity to the region, which will be essential for economic recovery.
c. Third, we should build up our technology capabilities and common infrastructure to support these efforts. This will be important for tourism recovery in at least three ways.
i. First, information sharing, contact tracing and public health management.
ii. Second, the adoption of e-visas, digital passports and contactless immigration processes and payment systems to facilitate travel within the region.
iii. Third, technology can also support recovery of tourism businesses by expanding into the digital realm to tap on new markets, strengthening the overall resilience of our industry.
8. Tourism will change forever, but it will never disappear, for we as humans crave social interactions and new experiences. This crisis brings challenges and also new opportunities for us to reimagine tourism in a unique and sustainable way.
9. Working together as one ASEAN, we can achieve much more. Singapore looks forward to working with our ASEAN counterparts to drive a collective ASEAN recovery.
10. Thank you, Chairman.