Proposal to vaccinate the population of Phuket and remove quarantine for incoming visitors appears to have the support of key ministers in the government. On Wednesday, the Deputy Governor of the island, Pichet Panapong, said that without it, local incomes by July would fall to less than ฿2,000 per month, well below the poverty line in Thailand.

There are encouraging signs that Phuket may be the first place in Thailand to offer the international tourism market a quarantine free holiday getaway from July 1st next. This is contingent on final approval from the government in Bangkok and the administration of over 900,000 vaccine doses to the island’s population ahead of the proposed opening date. It comes as the UK, which sent nearly a million visitors to the kingdom in 2019, is proposing to raise the duty on air passenger flights to long haul destinations such as Thailand as part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s current wave of environmentally friendly ‘green’ policies which aim to penalise those regularly undertaking long haul flights.

On Wednesday, the Deputy Governor of Phuket Pichet Panapong made an urgent appeal to approve the current proposal to allow foreign tourism without quarantine in Phuket and open the island to international travellers by July 1st next with plans to inoculate the entire population. He said, without this, the average income on the island in July will fall below the Thai poverty line of under ฿2,000 per month.

There was a clear sign of progress on reopening the kingdom to foreign tourism on Wednesday in respect of Phuket, one of Thailand’s most popular holiday destinations which is also the kingdom’s largest island on the Andaman Sea.

Its geography and its international airport make it well placed to be the first tourist hotspot in the country to welcome back mass-market tourism meaning holidaymakers can fly in and stay without quarantine.

Full reopening in Phuket needed to avert a financial catastrophe with plummeting incomes on the island

This was agreed on Wednesday by the infectious diseases committee on the island when Deputy Governor Pichet Panapong spelt out the urgent necessity of reopening to foreign tourists on market terms to head off an economic catastrophe for the island which has a population of nearly 420,000 people.

Deputy Governor Pichet said the plan being championed now has the support of the country’s economic czar Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow. It is understood many of the island’s 600 hotels face financial calamity without a breakthrough in the current low levels of occupancy being experienced with a dearth of incoming foreign tourism.

He explained that the average income for workers on the island had fallen to below the poverty line but was currently at ฿8,000 per month with government supports.

This level of income, he said, will fall back to below ฿2,000 per person on the island unless foreign tourist income began to flow into its coffers.

Foreign tourists will not come with quarantine

‘Phuket has been without any new Covid-19 cases for 89 days. There is an urgent need for foreign tourists here, to stimulate the economy and tourism sector,’ he disclosed. ‘Before, a local resident earned about 40,000 baht per month on average. In February, this fell to about 8,000 baht. Without some change, this will fall to 1,964 baht in July, which is below the poverty line.’

The top official said the local government on the island had done its homework and was convinced that foreign tourists will not return under quarantine rules. What was being proposed was no quarantine within the island of Phuket. However, visitors would be required to load and use a tracking app on their smartphones.

International vaccine passport systems on airlines

It may well be that such plans may also benefit from the policies of larger airlines that may increasingly demand the use of a smart vaccine passport app system for passengers flying long haul routes. 

Qantas Airways boss, Irish man Alan Joyce has said, in recent days, that he expects many governments worldwide to make the use of such a facility a ‘condition of entry for the future’.

In recent weeks, the Tourism Authority of Thailand here has also recommended the Thai government clarify its position on this. This screening would offer Thai planners further comfort when deciding to open up the kingdom.

Vaccinated people substantially lower any risk and nearly eliminate the risk of serious illness

Vaccinated people can become reinfected as most vaccines are less than 100% effective but there is increasing evidence to suggest that vaccinated people, even if reinfected, are less likely to transmit the disease and also are thought to be immune to becoming seriously ill with it.

Phuket has 120,000 rooms and 600 hotels on the island and its reopening to foreign tourists without quarantine by July 1st may, if it gets the go-ahead, be the signal that Thailand’s is back in business for foreign holidaymakers again.

Thai government expects a return to normal in 2022

The government in Bangkok, in the last 24 hours, gave the go-ahead for expansion plans at Suvarnabhumi airport. It indicated that it expects flight traffic and visitors to be back to normal by 2022.

Health authorities in Phuket with the support of the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, have indicated that they will have 930,000 doses to inoculate every person on the island before the reopening to visitors goes ahead as planned.

Proposal would increase flight prices to Thailand from UK airports with higher duties if introduced

Across the world, however, there was less encouraging news for UK tourists planning to visit Thailand later this year and next, after the government of Boris Johnson suggested a possible hike in Air Passenger Duty (APD) on long haul flights under the UK Prime Minister’s new green agenda and the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

The proposed new policy, seen in documents prepared by the UK Treasury, show plans to increase the current duty on long haul flights by increasing the tier system for international flights from two as it is now, to three or four different tiers.

Currently, UK travellers on short regional flights pay a duty of £26 while those flying to long haul destinations pay £80. This may now be increased substantially if this proposal is enacted.

Part of the new ‘green deal’ agenda in the United Kingdom and response to environmentalists

The new proposals ‘would reinforce the ‘polluter pays principle’ by ensuring that those who travel furthest internationally, and consequently have the greatest impact on the environment, incur the most duty’ declared the government document.

Environmental groups have begun to increasingly target what they term international travellers.

This would particularly target frequent visitors from western countries to Thailand as activists call for a ‘frequent flyer levy’ as part of international efforts to combat climate change.

Industry body says it’s a blow to UK airlines

Reaction to the proposal has been understandably less than welcome from the representative body of UK airlines.

Tim Alderslade of Airlines UK said it was the last thing the industry needed right now as it sought to get planes back in the skies and restart flight connectivity worldwide.

He also saw it as a blow for airlines flying out of the United Kingdom.

‘It is a tax on UK competitiveness and only serves to hinder route development and connectivity.’

MP and Chairman of a key commons committee says flight duties are already too high for working families

Reaction from the House of Commons was also quite scathing as Henry Smith, a Conservative Party MP for Crawley in West Sussex and the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, called on the government to support UK based airlines at this time.

He also said it was an increased tax on working UK families seeking to travel abroad. He said the existing charge was already too high.

‘It is welcome that the government is looking at reform of Air Passenger Duty, but their guiding focus must be to support our embattled airlines to bounce back from the pandemic rather than potentially add new bands and increase the costs on hard-working families,’ he declared. ‘Our sky-high levels of APD have consistently undermined and damaged our long-haul connectivity and any reform must ensure that our world-class airlines are not only able to recover from the pandemic but to protect and increase the vital connectivity that we will need for a truly global Britain.’

UK sends up to 1 million annual visitors to Thailand

In 2019, there were 994,000 visitors to Thailand from the United Kingdom, a near peak and just off the 2016 record of 1.03 million arrivals representing just 2.5% of the kingdom’s inbound traffic.

54% of Thailand’s record number of visitors in 2019 at nearly 40 million were from either China or the 10 nation ASEAN community in Southeast Asia.

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Further reading:

Thailand’s plan to reopen lacks clarity with rising doubts for anything like mass tourism in 2021

Centre for Covid-19 announces ‘bubble and seal’ measures after October 1st with quarantine lifted

PM signals a policy change to allow broader and easier private sector access to Covid-19 vaccines

PM leads the way as Thailand aims to return to normal by pushing forward its vaccine drive using AstraZeneca

Phuket could be open again to mass foreign tourism by July 1st says Tourism Minister Phiphat

Proposal to ease quarantine sent to government from the Public Health Ministry committee on Monday

Minister urged not to be afraid to borrow in 2021 as fears grow for a quick foreign tourism revival

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Refloat of foreign tourism in the 2nd half of 2021 with vaccines pushed by minister and industry for the sector

Fact – only 6,556 visitors arrived in Thailand last month compared to 3.95 million in December 2019

Desperate foreign tourism business concerns are clinging to straws as they try to survive the crisis

Strict entry criteria to remain as officials await clarity on the medical status of vaccinated people

Challenge of the virus and closure to tourism leads to major long term changes in the Thai economy