A UK travel consultancy has revealed that its studies of countries worldwide with large foreign tourist industries have shown that a combination of airport testing both before and after flights for the virus followed by a 5 day quarantine period is more effective than a 14-day quarantine regime. Jersey, a small British controlled island off France which reopened to foreign tourists in July, has only had a 0.09% infection rate with 20,000 visitors since reopening with these controls. All infections were tracked. The British bailiwick with a population of just under 100,000 people, only had 4 cases of local transmission since then with foreign tourists understood to account for nearly 20% of people on the island at any one time.
The Governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority has warned that 2.5 million jobs could be lost in the immediate short term if moves are not taken to ‘expose’ Thailand once again to foreign tourism. He made his comments as it has emerged that a crunch meeting between PM Prayut Chan ocha and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul is to take place on the issue. The cabinet is also to review a proposal for 9-month visas for tourists who wish to visit Thailand on long stay vacations when it meets on Tuesday next.
The Thai cabinet is to review the proposal to grant long-stay visas of up to 9 months to foreign tourists aimed at a particular market among western visitors when it meets next Tuesday.
It comes as Thailand’s economic planners are becoming concerned that the level of unemployment in the country remains stubbornly high and economists are warning that government stimulus will not be enough, in itself, to wrestle with an economy still going in the wrong direction.
Tourism chief warns that 2.5 million jobs are threatened even in the short-term without a restart
The Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand Yuthasak Supasorn, on Wednesday, warned that 2.5 million jobs that are currently being maintained within threatened tourism concerns are in peril if there is not some return to foreign tourism in the short term.
‘If the situation in the fourth quarter does not improve and no foreign tourists have yet travelled to Thailand, 2.5 million jobs out of a current 4 million in the tourism sector may be lost,’ he said.
He explained and outlined the terms of the new long-stay tourist visa initially for 90 days but which can be renewed twice at a local immigration bureau office.
New 90 day long-stay visa that can be extended to 9 months with two renewals will cost ฿2,000
‘The visa, which costs ฿2,000 per person, is suitable for foreign tourists who want to stay in Thailand for a long time,’ he said.
Mr Yuthasak pointed out that the government is trying to find a balanced approach between maintaining public health faced with the Covid 19 threat, the economy and the opinions of local people on the ground particularly in tourist hotspots.
Phuket in the spotlight as government deliberates. 60 hotels waiting to apply for new local government quarantine scheme to welcome foreign tourists
Over the last week, government delegations including key ministers have visited Phuket.
They listened to the opinion of local officials, tourism operators and the public regarding the re-introduction of foreign tourism to Phuket, an island where 90% of the population’s income derives from tourism and where 50,000 jobs are currently on the verge of being lost.
Anthony Lark is the President of the Phuket Hotel Association which comprises nearly 78 hotels on the island.
He is warning that the current situation of marginal income for hotel and tourism business operators cannot continue much longer without dire consequences.
Government using Phuket as a ‘model’
The government is preparing to relaunch the foreign tourism industry back into Phuket sometime after the end of October this year using the Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) system where tourists will be forced do pay and comply with a strict 14-day, state-supervised quarantine on arrival in the island.
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However, currently, only two Phuket hotels are participating in the scheme while up to 60 hotels and resorts are expected to apply for the new Alternative Local State Quarantine Scheme (ALSQ) as part of the re-launch of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry, one of the largest in the world and which according to the Governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, Mr Yurhasak, represents 20% of the kingdom’s GDP.
This figure is listed in technical terms at just short of 12% but knock-on economic effects of the foreign tourism activity leading to this figure as Thailand is now discovering.
Phuket hotelier points to knock-on economic effects when the foreign tourism industry is stalled
Leading hotelier, Mr Lark, points out from Phuket: ‘Data recently released by hospitality consulting group C9 Hotelworks also showed that 69 per cent of hotel development plans in the pipeline have been delayed or put on hold.’
This demonstrates the knock-on effect on Thailand’s economy from the absence of foreign tourism. In this instance, it extends into the construction sector.
Mr Lark warned that in Phuket as in other areas around Thailand such as Ko Samui, Pattaya and Chiang Mai, sooner or later, something has to give.
‘The math simply doesn’t work with single-digit occupancies being reported. No amount of induced local demand can prevent the continued loss of jobs and rapidly eroding financial crisis for owners and operators. We strongly advocate a safe, pragmatic, and strategic reopening for foreign travellers,’ Mr Lark explained.
Tourism Authority Governor gives insight into the political moves on the issue – contemplating ‘exposure’ to foreign tourists before the year’s end
In Bangkok on Wednesday, Mr Yuthasak gave some insight into the politics behind efforts to restart foreign tourism in Thailand. He indicated that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and the Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul are discussing the situation.
The PM chairs the Centre of Covid 19 Situation Administration which is resistant to moves to reopen Thailand to foreign tourism.
He said that the Thai Tourism Authority has submitted to these discussions in writing.
However, Mr Yuthasak indicated that he foresees some foreign tourists, particularly from Europe, arriving in Thailand in the latter quarter of the year and that the government will use this experience to formulate a way forward.
He described this as ‘limited exposure’ to foreign tourists.
Anything like normal tourism will have to wait until at least the second quarter of 2021 as domestics tourism has also dived even further
Mr Yuthasak indicated that it would only be in the second quarter of 2021 that anything like normal tourism will return to Thailand and suggested that his authority would be targeting 20 million visitors next year with 16 million from Asian countries and the remainder from western or non-Asian markets.
This, however, will only happen if a vaccine has been made generally available in the meantime.
Mr Yuthasak admitted that domestic tourism is down by 62%, nearly as much as foreign tourism this year even though foreign tourism was only halted at the end of March 2020 but since then, has been at a standstill.
Foreign tourism generates at least twice as much revenue as domestic tourism for the Thai economy.
Thai Travel agents groups call for tourists without quarantine provisions from some areas
Meanwhile, there has been a call from the Thai Travel Agents Association to allow tourism into the kingdom again without quarantine from specified safe zones or areas.
This is unlikely in the short term as the government appears wedded to the alternative state quarantine concept.
UK researcher reveals that airport testing with a short follow up period has proved more effective than extended quarantine in other countries
Researchers in the UK, last week, announced that, based on real-life testing and research in Greece, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Cyprus and Singapore, countries which have introduced testing at airports both on departure and arrival in conjunction with a further test, within 5 days of arrival, are showing a lower risk of from Covid 19 infection than those pursuing 14 days quarantine.
Paul Charles of UK travel consultancy The PC Agency said that his firm’s research has shown that the UK government’s statistics and models are wildly off and too pessimistic.
A recent proposal in the UK to replace 14 days quarantine with testing on arrival and a limited follow up quarantine within a few days was rejected by UK government ministers claiming that only 7% of infected people would be detected.
Experience in other countries and jurisdictions has shown this to be inaccurate.
Works in the real world as firm tests results and refutes data from government scientists
In real life, data examined in countries that have tried a regime with the Covid 19 tests before and after flights with a follow up within five days shows that this approach is safer.
‘The seven per cent figure is spurious data which is questioned by the whole travel industry as being out of date. Secondly, it only relates to one test at the airport rather than two,’ said Mr Charles.
Jersey reopened to foreign tourists in July with testing and has a 0.09% Covid infection rate
The travel consultant highlighted the tourist island of Jersey, a British controlled bailiwick off the French coast.
The island, heavily dependent on tourism, reopened to tourists in July using a Covid 19 test for all incoming tourists on arrival and one test before departure to the island.
The result was that only 17 infections were detected in follow-ups to have the virus whereas the UK government projections suggested it should have been 185. In the meantime, there were only 4 cases of local transmission.
IATA, the international airline industry body, is advocating testing at airports for both departures and arrivals as an adequate and highly effective tool that could help relaunch world air travel bringing back foreign tourism to countries like Thailand so badly in need of it.