Several initiatives including the ‘Phuket Model’ and only last week, a 9-month long-stay visa for foreign tourists, have been announced but nothing is yet finalised. All are subject to not only stringent requirements but also limited flight capacity with a reliance on chartered flights. Thailand’s tourism industry will not rebound, even in a limited way, to anything like its former level of earnings without free market access and a sizable air passenger flight network. Studies in the UK are showing that the countries that are reopening successfully to tourism are relying on airport testing for the virus both before and after flights as the most reliable screening method.
Despite an announcement, last Tuesday, of a new 9-month tourist visa for long-stay travellers with deep pockets and another announcement by the Ministry of Health of another initiative suggesting a quarantine at-home requirement, the current position is that there is no, as yet defined, route open to foreign tourists to return to Thailand. The situation for foreigners outside of Thailand contemplating the kingdom as a possible holiday destination looks quite chaotic and confusing right now. Not least, a report from Krabi, this week, where a Thai Senate panel heard that only two hotels in the province were amenable to accepting foreign tourists as customers at this time.
Thailand has announced a tentative new requirement for foreign tourists to enter the country although further clarification is required.
On Friday, Dr Chakrarat Pittayawonganon who is the Director of the Bureau of Mental Health at the Department of Disease Control, appeared to herald a new requirement to the government’s already tight policy so far, of restricting entry for foreigners and tourists to those willing to comply with strict and demanding criteria while also paying for 14 days in the growing Alternative State Quarantine system.
Economy reeling from the loss of foreign tourism with ฿8 billion a day being lost in local earnings
The announcement is coming at a time when Thailand’s economy is reeling from the ongoing effects of the closure of the country’s once-massive foreign tourism industry which an economic think tank at Krung Thai Bank suggested, in recent weeks, could be costing the kingdom’s economy over ฿8 billion a day.
Krabi hotels don’t want foreign tourists
It is also coming with astounding reports from local populations on the ground in tourist hotspots where there is increasingly strong resistance to the return of foreign tourists despite the economic devastation that is being caused.
Over the weekend, there was a report from Krabi province, an increasingly popular tourist location before the virus lockdown which suggested that only two hotels in the province were willing to accept foreign tourists again.
This stance is all the more surprising as leading tourism industry leaders from the South warned the government at the beginning of September that many hotels were facing bankruptcy this month if current single-digit occupancy rates are not improved upon.
Senate panel hears only two hotels on Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta open to accepting foreigners
The news emerged following a visit to the beautiful Thai province by a committee of the Thai Senate investigating plans to restart tourism.
The local representative of Thailand’s Tourism Authority confirmed to the Senate panel that only two hotels, one on Ko Phi Phi and one on Ko Lanta, were interested in reopening to foreign tourists at this time.
This was despite confirmation of the financial costs of the virus downturn for which hotel owners and industry concerns instead implored the government to provide cash relief or support funds for the industry in the province.
Ministry of health officials suggest another foreign tourist reentry hurdle even before it begins
The announcement on Friday from the Department of Disease Control appeared to indicate that the Ministry of Public Health was now pursuing an initiative where foreign tourists will also only be allowed to come to Thailand after quarantining at home for 14 days with a stipulation that a negative a Covid 19 test is conducted at the beginning and the end of a certified process of confinement and that the last negative result comes within 72 hours of departure.
This is understood to be in addition to the Alternative State Quarantine requirement once the visitors arrive in Thailand.
In the meantime, it is being reported that the outgoing National Police Chief, General Chakthip Chaijinda, has issued an order for the Royal Thai Police to coordinate with government agencies regarding preparation for the arrival of the new long term visa holders.
Phuket model breakthrough bogged down in Bangkok talks despite August approval in principle
The new initiative is in addition to the much-discussed ‘Phuket Model’ initiative which was agreed in principle at a Thai cabinet meeting in Rayong this August but which appears to have gotten bogged down in discussion at the cabinet-level in Bangkok and discussions with the Centre for Covid 19 Situation Administration.
That scheme involved a 14-day strict quarantine period in what was called the Local Alternative Quarantine Scheme where tourists would be allowed to travel within the local area after 14 days state-supervised quarantine and nationally if they committed to 21 days in isolation.
Plan was to extend the scheme to all former foreign tourism hotspots such as Ko Samui
The Tourism Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, it is reported, had planned to extend this scheme to other popular tourist areas such as Krabi, Ko Samui, Chiang Mai and Pattaya in due course.
The new initiative, outlined on Friday, would now not only create another hurdle in addition to the alternative quarantine requirement but it is also reported that the visa option will be limited to safe countries despite this exhaustive screening and testing process.
It would also come with similar conditions such as $100,000 health insurance including cover against the virus, medical certification and a new request that inbound passengers avoid large crowds or gatherings after their latest Covid 19 test.
UK travel consultancy firm reveals that airport testing is more effective than 14 days quarantine
A recent study by The PC Agency, a tourist consultancy firm based in the UK, into approaches taken by European countries such as Greece, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Cyprus and Singapore as well as the popular UK tourist island of Jersey, showed that airport testing, the approach being pitched by IATA, the world airline body, to reopen the world’s skyways, both before and after flights with a limited 5 day follow up, was a more effective disease prevention regime than 14 days quarantine and eliminates the need to categorise safe or unsafe countries.
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On Friday, the Department of Disease Control, as it outlined its proposal for a new foreign tourism channel, explained that its plan would require increased staffing at Thai international airports even if limited to low-risk countries.
Officials also confirmed that those entering Thailand through the Alternative State Quarantine system posed no risk to the public.
Small number of medical tourists
At the same time, the Health Service Support Department at the Ministry of Public Health revealed that 735 medical tourists had entered Thailand for treatment from China, Myanmar, Oman, Cambodia and Australia having completed 14 days quarantine.
These tourists are expected to generate ฿25 million in revenue for the economy.
Officials also reported that nearly 2,300 potential tourists from China, Myanmar, Japan and Kuwait have made enquiries about visiting Thailand for medical tourism which they suggest will generate a further ฿115 million in income.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand is predicting that in the next year it will see over 14,000 foreign tourists arriving with the long-stay tourist visa and that they will generate ฿12.63 billion in revenue for the economy while in Thailand.
Last initiative on Tuesday for a 9-month long-stay tourist visa still not finalised with requirements set
The latest initiative follows a decision by the Thai cabinet last Tuesday to approve a new 270-day visa which will comprise of an initial 90-day visa for tourists which can be extended twice at a cost of ฿2,000.
However, we are still waiting on the final regulations concerning this visa to be issued by the Ministry of the Interior which may include a requirement for proof of funding or income and will, almost certainly, include health insurance, medical testing and a Covid test before departure for Thailand in addition to paying for 14 days in the Alternative State Quarantine system.
The government, last week, also made it clear that arrivals of tourists through this channel would be limited to chartered flights.
No viable route for foreign tourists yet
The key point to note, at this stage, is that despite the array of initiatives that have been launched or announced, there is still no approved or defined route for everyday foreign tourists to enter Thailand that has been finalised.
In the meantime, opposition to even the limited entry of foreigners, at present, being allowed through special approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for those with links to Thailand is being voiced by senior medical experts who are warning the government that even this traffic poses a risk.
Figures announced, last week, suggested that over 12,000 foreigners have already arrived back to Thailand through this route on chartered repatriation flights with the numbers increasing.
Success will ultimately require the reintroduction of free market and air passenger access to Thailand
The current regulation of passenger flights into Thailand is still limited to inbound foreign passengers from select groups and returning Thai nationals.
Any change to allow for a more expansive form of foreign tourism will have to occur alongside changes to air transport regulations and will also ultimately have to be left to the open market even while still subject to stringent controls if Thailand is to have any prospect of a revival of its tourist economy.
In the meantime, the longer the industry stays moribund with tinkering adjustments, the more severe the long term damage that will be done to the economy and tourism as other countries, driven by an economic imperative, are beginning to open up with airport testing controls despite increasing rates of infection worldwide.