Confusion and sporadic information from the network of Royal Thai Embassies worldwide sees only a small number of foreign spouses apply to come home to the kingdom as officials move to iron out doubts raised this week over the ‘tourism bubble’ concept. This may mean incoming flights from July 1st and Thailand’s first tourists from August as the kingdom plans to move away from Chinese mass tourism for now.
A meeting on Monday is expected to finalise plans to allow over 50,000 foreigners to enter Thailand with the limited resumption of inward passenger travel to the kingdom from July 1st. However, so far, according to the Covid 19 Administration Centre in Bangkok, only 2,000 foreigners have registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be reunited with their spouses or loved ones under the entry criteria laid down last week. It is thought that this may be due to lack of clarity from some Thai embassies worldwide. Meanwhile, Thailand’s first tourists are expected to arrive in the kingdom after August 1st while the Thai Tourism Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, has said he is hoping that the kingdom can entice high-end European and American visitors for the winter season to top Thai resorts on well-known islands as the kingdom, for now, will stay clear of mass tourism from China.
Thailand is expected to finally reopen its borders to scheduled air flights from July 1st according to reliable sources but this will not see anything like the return of unbridled tourism into the kingdom.
The last week or so has seen complex discussions between government officials and medical experts coordinated by the Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) after doubts arose on how the travel bubble concept of tourism would be operated.
A proposal to the Covid 19 centre in recent days was rejected as it failed to stipulate adequate quarantine requirements.
Fears among officials and experts of a second wave are very keenly felt after what is seen as victory
This comes amid still heightened fears of a second wave of infection in Thailand with a top medical professional, Dr Prasit Watanapa of Mahidol University, taking to social media this week to warn about this possibility.
He pointed out that he did think that any such event would be limited in nature.
Nonetheless, he warned that even countries with low numbers run the real risk of a spike in infections.
The success by the government at keeping the number of deaths at only 58 since the outbreak and the number of infections at 3,157 with no local transmitted cases in nearly four weeks is highly valued as a national victory.
Discussions over the travel bubble concept have been occurring at a time when China, which is seen as one of the countries to be accommodated under the new travel plans, has experienced a surprisingly virulent surge in cases in its capital, Beijing.
Critical meeting on Monday which could see limited incoming flights after July 1st into Thailand as predicted weeks ago with tight controls
It is now understood that some further decision will be made at a meeting on Monday the 29th of June which would see the way open to allowing international arrivals on inbound flights from July.
On May 28th, such a course was predicted by Secretary-General of the National Security Council, General Somsak Rungsita although since then, it has become clear that tight controls on entry to the kingdom will, in any event, be retained.
July 1st will also see the reopening of bars and soapy massage parlours in Thailand although, again, with strict conditions.
Entry extended last week to foreign spouses
Currently, since the end of April, a select group of foreigners have been allowed to apply for entry through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on a limited basis and for urgent cases only for those who have work permits.
More recently, this was extended to foreigners with spouses in the kingdom and permanent residency.
Such passengers have been dropped off by flights on stop overs.
Sporadic response from Royal Thai Embassy network worldwide to enquiries by foreigners
However, there have been reports that the Royal Thai Embassy network throughout the world has been sporadic in its response to foreigners with spouses in Thailand seeking to apply for certificates of entry or the green light to enter the kingdom.
All such applications are being considered on a case by case basis and must satisfy officials in Bangkok that the case is urgent.
There have been cases of applications to enter Thailand on work permits which have been denied.
However, there are already some confirmed cases of foreigners married to Thai nationals being granted a certificate of entry after their long wait.
This long wait for many stranded foreigners now means that many families have been kept apart for four or five months, or even more, during this hiatus period.
Covid 19 spokesman suggested only 2,000 foreign spouses have so far registered to enter Thailand
On Wednesday, Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, of the Covid 19 centre detailed a list of up to 50,000 people who are registered and waiting to enter Thailand.
However, this list only specified 2,000 spouses of Thai nationals as having applied. Many have been told at embassies around the world either that they cannot apply or have not been given a briefing on what is required.
Only some embassies, such as the Royal Thai Embassy in London, have confirmed the key requirements for Thai spouses at this point.
The details given by the Covid 19 centre on Wednesday show over fifty thousand people have registered to enter Thailand although previously, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the time of releasing the requirements for foreign spouses, suggested that already nearly twenty thousand had registered seeking entry on work permits alone.
Concern for those on retirement visas
There is also an additional concern for many retired foreigners who regularly travel home to families in their native countries.
Over the last few months, many of these, while stranded outside the kingdom, have seen their visas expire.
In such situations, they are obliged to apply again for the appropriate visa but all Thailand’s embassies have stopped processing such dispensations.
Many of these also have spouses, family and property in Thailand from which they are still excluded.
Foreigners have already returned to Thailand with clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
There has been some progress albeit with slow and painstaking effort.
Significant numbers of foreigners have already been processed with reports that the government’s alternative quarantine programme is to be extended to 9,000 beds.
In mid-June, it was announced that the government would be in a position to process up to 1,000 entrants into the kingdom per day under these new requirements including entrants to alternative quarantine.
Among the 50,000 announced as having been registered for entry on Wednesday, were 30,000 medical tourists and it is suggested that they can be quarantined effectively in hospital although this has not yet been confirmed.
Businessmen in the next wave on short stays may not be required to enter quarantine on arrival
It was also suggested this week that up to 700 of the visitors classified as businesspeople may be allowed entry into the kingdom on short term stays without quarantine.
They will, however, have to be tested for the virus before and after flying as well as comply with all the other requirements including an entry certificate obtained through their relevant Thai Embassy, Covid 19 insurance to the value of $100,000 and medical certificates.
August may see the first tourists
Reports today indicate that from August this year we may see the first travel bubble tourists arrive in the kingdom.
This has yet to be confirmed with details still being discussed at the highest levels. However, this is likely to be approved at next Monday’s meeting.
There are strong suggestions that priority will be given to Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and selected cities and provinces from China.
However, there have also been reports of talks with western countries such as Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand.
Tourism Minister says Covid 19 emergency is an opportunity to reset Thai tourism towards quality
At a higher, policy level, last week, Thailand’s Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn strongly suggested that this Covid 19 emergency was an opportunity to reset Thailand’s tourism industry going forward focusing on the higher end of the market.
He insisted that Thailand may be ready to turn its back on both cheap package holidays and backpackers roaming freely throughout the kingdom.
His comments chimed with Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who talked about building a ‘greater Thailand’ from a new normal after its success at defeating the virus.
General Prayut told Thais last week that Thailand will emerge from this crisis ‘a new nation that is stronger and more respected.’
Paradise islands to become key centres for a new tourism approach where European and American visitors will be invited to this winter
Tourism Minister Phiphat’s plans include using Thailand’s islands as quarantine prototypes for a new type of tourism.
He specifically mentioned Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Phi Phi. The minister envisaged the tourism industry less dependent on the lower end of the market from China.
He outlined plans to market the kingdom to past visitors to higher-end resorts and facilities on these islands.
He set a target of welcoming back American and European visitors to the idyllic Thai islands during the next winter season from November to February.
In the meantime, Thai officials are discussing a ‘villa type’ of quarantine where tourists would be obliged to stay at their hotel accommodation and subject to monitoring as we saw in the last months or the period running up to the State of Emergency on March 26th and the international flight ban on April 4th.