New visitor charge for all incoming travellers from 2022 will be ฿300 but will provide for automatic insurance cover for foreign tourists in Thailand, something urged on the government for many years and which could generate ฿6 billion for special tourist funds to improve amenities.
Thailand may be down but not out as the current third wave of the virus challenges efforts to reopen the kingdom to foreign tourists in 2021. This week, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn confirmed that plans to reopen Phuket to unrestricted foreign tourism without quarantine, as well as other parts of the kingdom popular with foreigners, are still on the drawing board with a goal of attracting up to 4 million visitors in 2021, primarily in the last quarter of the year.
The Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has refused to rule out the opening of Phuket to unrestricted foreign tourism on July 1st provided that the island province can achieve herd immunity by vaccinating 70% of its population and that the infection rate is brought under control locally with no new outbreaks.
The minister also made it clear that even though the country is battling with a vicious third wave of the virus which has seen record numbers of deaths and infection, Thailand is still planning to reopen its doors to foreign tourists without quarantine in the fourth quarter with local vaccination drives in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, Ko Samui, Phang-nga, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phetchaburi, Buriram and Pattaya.
Government trying to avoid a wipeout in 2021
The government is trying to avoid a complete wipeout of the kingdom’s lucrative foreign tourism industry this year which saw nearly 99% of normal visitor numbers wiped out in the first quarter of 2021.
Mr Phiphat has indicated that 3 to 4 million visitors are still expected in the fourth quarter of the year which should be worth ฿150 to ฿200 billion to the kingdom’s economy.
The figure is reduced substantially from the 10 million targeted in mid-January.
Minister says current wave could be controlled by the end of May at below 200 cases per day
In a statement following this week’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting at the Bank of Thailand, the governor of the bank, Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, confirmed the importance of the industry to Thailand’s economy which while it is well underpinned financially, is struggling this year and potential growth rates are paired down as foreign tourism funds 20% of employment in Thailand.
The Tourism Minister also indicated that he thought the current virus wave would be brought under control by the end of May.
‘We have to speed up inoculations, particularly in Bangkok, to achieve herd immunity by the fourth quarter. The number of daily infections should be below 200 by the end of this month to restore international tourism confidence,’ he pointed out.
New ฿300 charge for incoming travellers from 2022
The minister revealed that from January 2022, the new visitor charge of ฿300 for incoming travellers will go ahead, a move that will provide automatic insurance cover for foreign tourists to Thailand and which has long been urged by experts, observers and those working within the foreign tourism industry.
Previously, the negative PR in relation to news stories generated by injured or sick foreign tourists stranded in Thailand had helped undermine the country’s reputation as being one of the most affordable and exciting places in the world to visit.
Insurance cover counts for ฿34 of the charge
It is understood the insurance premium element of the charge is only ฿34 although details of the coverage proposed have not been made clear yet in particular if it provides for medical evacuation of those who are sick or injured back to their country of origin which is a key requirement, based on past cases or emergencies.
One of the main reasons for delaying the introduction of the charge in previous years was the fear that it may have dampened record tourist numbers seen up to 2019.
The money raised from the fund, according to the minister, basing his calculations on a projected number for 2022 of 20.8 million arrivals, would amount to ฿6.2 billion which would go to preserving and upgrading tourist amenities as well as the insurance scheme to provide both accident and health coverage for tourists while visiting Thailand.
22% of Phuket’s population already vaccinated
It comes as Mr Kongsak Khoopongsakorn of the Thai Hotels Association’s Southern Thailand chapter in Phuket has confirmed that 22% of the population there has already been inoculated.
He also indicated that in May and June a further 200,000 doses are expected which could see the immunisation rate approach 50% by the end of June.
This would still not be sufficient to achieve herd immunity which, according to Thai medical experts, requires 70% of the population.
Initially many incoming foreign tourists will be from western countries although the Chinese market, formerly Thailand’s largest, may open later in 2021
However, if the island does reach that figure by the July 1st deadline and in some cases, local transmission of the virus remains, the minister indicated that discussions will take place with the Ministry of Public Health on the matter.
Previous updates from the Tourism Authority of Thailand have suggested that many of the initial foreign visitors to Phuket will be from western countries and Europe although Thai tourism officials are looking closely at the situation in China to see if, from October 2021, visitors can be expected from what was formerly Thailand’s biggest foreign tourism market accounting for 27.5% of foreign arrivals in 2019.