Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha explains that the move to allow foreign tourists back was designed to benefit local people who work in tourism concerns which were in real danger of being shut down without trade. He assured the public that control over the new tourism traffic will be scrupulous to avoid endangering public health or sparking a new outbreak.
Thailand’s Prime Minister indicated on Tuesday that a wider return for foreign tourists may be on the cards even as there are reports of opposition to a local scheme, approved in principle by the government last week, to allow long-stay tourists to return to Phuket from October 1st next.
Thailand’s prime minister had good news and bad news for foreign tourists on Tuesday when he visited the eastern province in Rayong, close to one of the kingdom’s favourite tourist playgrounds, Pattaya.
The PM, in line with an increasingly more commercially savvy tone from the government since the formation of the new Centre for Economic Administration to balance out the influence of the medically orientated Centre for Covid 19 Administration Centre, acknowledged openly that the country would have to find a way forward again for incoming foreign tourism.
Calls in some quarters for Thailand to turn its back on mass tourism and recalibrate its economy
In recent months, the extent of the emergency in Thailand has brought calls from some quarters, which oppose the country’s reliance on the tourism industry, to suggest an economic balance with less of an emphasis on the sector.
Among those making such claims are Thai environmentalists and even conservative nationalists who oppose the use of natural resources and cultural impact that intensive tourism involves.
The environmental impact was an issue raised by the World Bank with Thailand’s authorities at the height of the continuing boom in 2018.
Thailand’s richest man suggested making the kingdom an elite oasis only for the ultra-wealthy
There have been calls to use the virus hiatus as an opportunity to upgrade Thailand to a more elite and expensive destination.
One of the proponents of such a course is Thailand’s richest man, the Chairman of the multi-billion dollar conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Group.
Mr Dhanin proposed marketing Thailand as an oasis for the super-rich and for it to move away from lower-end mass-market tourism earlier in the summer.
Health controls on invoking foreign tourists will be robust assured Prayut on Tuesday in Rayong
In Rayong this week, the PM assured a wary Thai public that health controls on any incoming tourists would be effective and robust.
He indicated that the plan for long-stay tourists to enter Phuket after the 1st October is being seen by Thai authorities as a controlled test to see how the kingdom’s capacity to restrict the disease works as well as the new tourism model itself.
No willy nilly access to Thailand as before
He said that incoming tourists would not, as was the case before the virus outbreak, be able to arrive in Thailand willy nilly and travel freely within the kingdom.
He was confident that the new foreign tourism being proposed on a cautious, test basis would not lead to a renewed outbreak or spike in infections.
However, not all agree with the PM.
Those who differ include senior medical experts, some of them who have been advising the government through the Centre for Covid 19 Administration.
Last Friday’s surprise – long-stay tourist returning to Phuket from October 1st announced by TAT
Last Friday, the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yuthasak Supasorn, confirmed a breakthrough as the government approved in principle the return of tourists to Phuket under a resort centred 14-day quarantine scheme which will be administered in conjunction with government health agencies.
This new tourism will involve long-stay tourists who will require tests and medical certification before they arrive and will be tested for the virus twice in the 14 day quarantine period.
A third test, in the third week, in which foreign visitors will be allowed access to the island outside their resorts will allow them, if negative, to travel to the rest of Thailand.
Plan still facing high-level resistance
This plan is reported to still be facing some resistance from medical experts within the powerful CCSA or Centre for Covid 19 Situation Administration.
Among those linked with opposition to relaxing Thailand’s guard against incoming foreigners is understood to be Dr Prasit Watanapa of Siriraj Hospital’s faculty of medicine while Dr Thira Woratanaratm, who is a distinguished professor and expert in preventative medicine at Chulalongkorn’s University’s Faculty of Medicine, has also warned against even the existing limited flow of foreigners through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The medical expert maintains that non-nationals should be kept out of Thailand altogether for a further 6 months.
Mr Thira is also an advisor to Thailand’s Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, a bête noire for many foreigners and expats in the kingdom due to several outbursts that were critical of western foreigners and tourists at the height of the Covid 19 emergency in February and March this year.
Cabinet focusing more on the economic imperative as protest activity grows – risk must be taken
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister, currently besieged by the increasing threat of student protests and unrest in the kingdom, did his best to assure the public that the new tourism initiative did not represent a heightened threat.
For him, it is a local gamble as his government pivots back from health being its fundamental priority to the economic imperative.
It is also coming at a time when the world is still experiencing, confusion conflicting information and uncertainty on all sides about not only the virus itself but the response to the pandemic and the efficacy of closing off borders and economic lockdowns.
No fear of a second wave of infection
General Prayut sought to allay fears, certainly prevalent among a sceptical Thai public, that tourists could bring with them a new wave of coronavirus disease.
‘There will be forms to fill in. Flights must be traceable. When they reach their destinations their whereabouts will have to be confirmed and they will be isolated from others,’ he explained to reporters.
Allowing foreign tourists helps the local economy
The prime minister seems to have been briefed on the economic implications for the tourism concerns in Phuket who have been particularly hard hit by the closure of the kingdom’s borders.
Phuket had seen a surge in property development in the tourism sector before the outbreak.
‘If nothing is done, things will get worse. Premises will be shut down. Employees will be laid off. How can the government afford to help them all?’ he asked.
The PM highlighted the fact that one of the main drivers in the government’s decision to take a calculated risk was the need to provide employment on the tourist island and to use it as a test for further tourism reopenings.
The plight of Pattaya, where there are large numbers of homeless people and people without food in the aftermath of the catastrophe, is also a key and pressing concern.
‘Local people must take care because the benefits will go to them, not the government,’ the prime minister explained.
Broader access to Thailand is on the agenda
The government leader did suggest, however, that a broader entry of tourists into the country was being considered.
He indicated that other key tourist areas such as Pattaya and Chiang Mai were being looked at. He also implied that the government is adopting a less risk-averse approach.
‘Please rest assured that if it is detected, we will be able to contain it,’ he told reporters, referring to the virus.
Will they come? Phuket could be booming in October
There has been some speculation on the level of interest among tourists in visiting Phuket as long-stay visitors with many disparaging and negative opinions online from quite a few potential tourists outside Thailand.
However, it is believed that there is a pent up demand and market for what the kingdom is offering, even with limited numbers of world travellers and flyers, which could make Phuket a boomtown by the end of October.
Many also may be returning expats who will see a three-week vacation in Phuket as a way to enter Thailand.