Government’s economic team has approved work permits for Elite cardholders investing over $1 million over 5 years as the new, limited, foreign tourism regime becomes embedded. This includes packages and offerings until at least the end of March 2021. Despite plans for a vaccination programme in Thailand in the latter half of 2021, any return to mass-market tourism will only come when the risk or threat of Thai citizens has been eliminated or severely reduced. Amidst the gloom, however, there is some hope that a mooted new international airline policy requiring all passengers be vaccinated may herald a possible change to the government’s plans.

The Thai government is setting out its stall for a ‘new normal’ in foreign tourism with minuscule numbers and package offerings in connection with the 14-day Alternative State Quarantine scheme (ASQ) and Thai Airways flights as it appears to be hunkering down for the long haul with mass tourism seen as off-limits until mass vaccination programmes in Thailand and throughout world bring the current global chaos caused by Covid-19 to an end with the resumption of international flights and mass tourism. Comments this week on the rejection by the government of a Ministry of Public Health proposal to reduce the fourteen day quarantine period to ten, led the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand to affirm that the ‘safety’ of ‘Thai citizens’ was still the utmost priority.

Thailand’s Tourism Authority Governor Yuthasak Supasorn has emphasised that the public health of Thai citizens is the priority for the government as Thailand embeds its new, limited tourism offerings up to the end of the High Season which targets thousands of tourists instead of millions.

The Governor of Thailand’s Tourism Authority, at the end of last week, made it clear that the government’s plans for foreign tourism in 2021 will be based on the ‘new normal’ of 14-day quarantine and travel packages offerings combined with Thai Airways flights and local hotel operators participating in the Alternative Quarantine Scheme.

Governor Yuthasak Supasorn made it clear that, as things presently stand, there will be no quick return to mass-market tourism as he confirmed that the government had rejected a proposal from the Ministry of Public Health to reduce the quarantine period from 14 days to 10 with 4 days access to public areas together with the use of a tracking device.

Vaccines may reopen the skies to international flights as national vaccination programmes are already being quickly ramped up in developed countries

A counterforce to the Thai government’s current trajectory, however, may be a reopening of the international flight network ahead of plans after informal talks in recent days between airline CEOs worldwide.

On Monday, Irishman Alan Joyce, the CEO of Australia’s Qantas, one of the first airlines to cut back flights at the beginning of the year and ground its fleet, indicated that mandatory vaccination of passengers would be a definite requirement for his airline and others based on his discussions with peers worldwide.

This may present the Tha government, at some point, with an opportunity to reappraise the situation and give the tourist industry a fillip if the outcomes are positive elsewhere. 

Currently, there is a 90 to 95% effectiveness rate projected for vaccines that have received the green light including those from Pfizer, Moderna and now AstraZeneca which is the vaccine that Thailand will initially use.

There are also signs that developed countries such as the USA, Germany and the others within the European Union are moving quickly to roll out vaccination programmes against the disease which could lead to real herd immunity if over 55% get the jab.

Safety of Thai citizens the priority says tourism chief

‘With re-opening the country, we have to think of the safety of our citizens as a priority,’ Mr Yuthasak said this week as new waves of the virus sweep the United States, Europe and Asia with medical experts now warning of a 4th, 5th and even 6th wave if a worldwide vaccine is not administered.

Even so, for now, the best-case scenario would be a reopening to mass-market or open foreign tourism sometime towards the end of 2021 with many industry observers and tourism experts suggesting that it will be 2022 before things get back to normal.

Miniscule percentage of last year’s visitors to be seen by the end of the year and into the High Season

Mr Yuthasak told the media this week that the numbers expected in Thailand by the end of the year under the strictly controlled new access environment would only see 10,000 tourists, a minute fraction of normal levels or something like 0.05% of traffic in the latter half of last year.

The Tourism Authority Governor has confirmed that a similar regime will be in place up to the end of March 2021 or right up to the end of the High Season for tourism when only 2,000 tourists per month are expected under packages design by the authority to compliment a new, limited Thai Airways Winter Schedule and local packages from Alternative Quarantine Scheme hotels. 

New Thai Airways flight schedule with weekly flights to and from three European destinations and one to Australia supported by tourism packages

The new Thai Airways schedule will see weekly flights from London, Copenhagen and Frankfurt combined with a weekly flight from Sydney Australia and a small network of Asian flights with departures and arrivals of up to three times per week.

In the meantime, the government’s Economic Situation Administration Centre met last Wednesday and finally agreed on a proposal to give work permits to certain Elite cardholders who invest $1 million in Thailand’s business and property sectors over five years when they purchase the more expensive version of the card for ฿1 million.

Elite cardholders to get work permits with $1 million investment over 5 years in business or property

Mr Yuthasak said that the initiative would bring increased investment into Thailand with a potential gain of ฿1 billion in Elite card fees going to the company that runs the scheme and a further ฿30 billion in foreign investment into the country.

The scheme has been now agreed in principle but must go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Interior Ministry for review and possible tweaks to the regulations before it is presented to the cabinet for final approval.

‘Bubble’ proposals are a busted flush

Meanwhile, Thailand’s tourist chiefs are ruling out any sort of ‘bubble’ arrangements with other countries as simply too dangerous and unpredictable. 

An array of such proposals have been bandied about since the kingdom’s border closure in April when the ongoing nature of the Covid-19 threat became apparent.

More official government conferences in resort locations planned to help out struggling hotels

Mr Yuthasak said he was thinking of resorts such as those in Phuket and Ko Samui as he outlined an internal government programme to push for more conferences and official seminars in these locations and across the kingdom as a way to boost domestic tourism.

The tourism boss also referenced a ฿50 billion to ฿100 billion fund that was earmarked to support tourism operators during this extended crisis.

‘The tourism support fund for ฿50 to ฿100 billion is still under consideration by the Ministry of Finance and needs more study,’ the tourism chief said.

‘For domestic tourism, the TAT is looking into adding more privileges for the ‘We Travel Together’ and the ‘Kamlang Jai’ campaigns, and will rush to make its proposals to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in order to stimulate the tourism during the new year holidays.’

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