Determined plan being pushed by the Phuket Tourist Association on the holiday island to vaccinate 70% of the population itself using the Sinovac vaccine from China as foreign tourism industry leaders vow that another high season will not be lost in 2021.
Thailand’s Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is planning to meet the Prime Minister this week to push for greater priority to be given to vaccination efforts to assist the reopening of the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry earlier than planned, in the third quarter of 2021. At the same time, the Phuket Tourist Association wants the government’s permission to organise a privately funded and driven vaccination programme on the island to inoculate 70% of its population from April to October to give the province herd immunity so that open foreign tourism can resume again after October 1st this year.
The Minister of Tourism and Sports Mr Phiphat is to meet the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to press for an ambitious plan to inoculate 2.5 million workers in the front line of Thailand’s foreign tourism sector as a matter of urgency.
It comes as the Ministry of Tourism and Sports is working closely with the Tourism Authority of Thailand on plans to reopen the country to unfettered foreign tourists as early as the third quarter of the year.
Plan could hike foreign tourist numbers from 5 million to 10 million in 2021 with big economic gains
The initiative by the minister and the top tourism promotion agency could, if successful, see Thailand’s foreign tourist numbers doubled from the 5 million now being projected, to 10 million if the proposals on the table get the green light from the government and the more hawkish Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) when its comes to public health issues.
The success of the plan would be a significant boost for the economy, possibly boosting GDP growth in 2021 by between 1% and 2.5% depending on how the calculation for foreign tourism’s contribution to GDP is taken into account with higher figures including ancillary spin-offs and benefits.
Priority for tourism industry workers in hotspots
The plan is based on prioritising vaccine doses for workers in the industry in key foreign tourist hotspots such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Krabi, Songkhla, Surat Thani and Phuket.
At the same time, the tourist agency and the ministry is pressing for the government and the Ministry of Public Health to look at allowing a special dispensation for vaccinated tourists from foreign countries under a range of vaccine passport schemes that are now being trialled and developed by airlines and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Vaccine passport concept must be part of the mix
The recognition of vaccine passports is especially emphasized by Yuthasak Supasorn the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand as the number of people being vaccinated grows across the world. It is understood that over 120 million have already been vaccinated mainly in western countries but also in Asia.
The combination of vaccinated incoming tourists, vaccinated local tourism industry workers and local populations would offer enhanced protection against the threat of the Covid-19 virus.
TAT to look at Middle Eastern and Asian markets
The Thai tourism promotion authority, TAT, is already planning to launch a marketing programme in March and April aimed at markets in the Middle East to generate visits to the kingdom in the second half of the year.
Executives with the tourism authority are looking at working closely with the Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways.
Mr Yuthasak also suggested coordination between Thai officials and Asean tourist agencies and ministries to see if a coordinated policy can be achieved regarding vaccine passports to relaunch tourism within the bloc.
Kingdom’s vaccination drive to begin in June
Thailand’s vaccination drive, in critical mass terms, is to begin in June and last Sunday, the government made it clear that workers linked with the country’s ‘economic security’ would be priorities in the first phase of the programme which is targeting 50% of the population.
Phuket’s tourism industry leaders have a plan
At the same time, tourism industry leaders in Phuket are resolute that another tourism season cannot be lost at the end of 2021.
Speaking to New York financial news service Bloomberg News in the last week, Jessada Srivichian of the Hotel Clover on the resort island said the 14-day quarantine requirement which saw Thailand’s foreign tourist numbers in December 2020 dwindle to 0.17% of the year before, simply had to go.
‘We’re not thinking of making a profit but instead focusing on minimising losses because as long as there’s a quarantine requirement, people won’t come.’ she explained.
Phuket Tourist Association wants to vaccinate 70% of Phuket’s population between April and October
In response, the Phuket Tourist Association on the island has drawn up its own plan to inoculate up to 70% of the population of 400,000 in a campaign driven by the private sector and using the Sinovac vaccine from China which is currently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration in Thailand.
The target is to reopen Phuket for foreign tourists by October 1st this year. The plan is being driven by the President of the Phuket Tourist Association, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam.
‘We can’t wait any longer. If we have to wait, we won’t survive,’ he says. ‘If we miss this winter peak season, we’d have to wait another year.’
Tourism body plans to use Chinese Sinovac vaccine
The organisation is in discussions with the government and health officials in Bangkok about its plans.
It is also pressing for acceptance of tourists into the kingdom under some sort of vaccine passport arrangement.
The organisation plans to use the Chinese Sinovac vaccine in its campaign.
AstraZeneca and Sinovac are proposed for Thailand’s programme as they are more easily distributed
At present, Thailand is planning to use the AstraZeneca jab developed by Oxford University which has been used extensively in the United Kingdom’s successful campaign so far in addition to the Pfizer BioNtech and Moderna jabs.
Thailand is also planning to use an initial 2 million doses of the Sinovac jab subject to Food and Drug Administration approval although it is far more expensive than the more effective product on offer from the UK Swedish pharmaceutical firm which is priced at ฿150 per dose compared to over ฿650 for the Chinese product.
Both of these vaccines can be used easily without large handling costs because they are effective under normal refrigeration and are not the more advanced mRNA types of vaccine.
However, the efficacy rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine is now being reported at just above 70% with questions over its performance when given to over 65-year-olds according to German and Swiss doctors this week.
The Sinovac vaccine was shown to be only 50.4% effective in Brazil in a recent trial although the firm says it is higher because that trial involved a clinical environment and medical staff.
Local group says it can vaccinate faster on the ground
The Phuket local tourist group argues that it can get the vaccination job in Phuket done faster on the ground if given the green light from Bangkok.
Part of its plan is that workers in the foreign tourism sector will be required to take responsibility and pay for their own vaccine.
The group wants to get started by April to be ready by October 1st next.
‘Phuket’s private team has already negotiated to buy vaccines from private hospital chains. If the government approves the private sector guidelines, we should start injecting Sinovac’s first dose before the Songkran festival and gradually inject the private sector to complete as planned,’ outlined Mr Bhummikitti this week. ‘The Phuket private sector has agreed that employees, especially in the tourism sector, will pay for vaccines themselves. For our future, we have to invest in ourselves.’