TAT boss rules out going back to the old Thai tourism formula of crowded bars and nightlife. He insists the kingdom is instead pursuing a higher quality, more family-friendly market. Yuthasak Supasorn also highlights the vital importance of cooperation between national, local government and state agencies in continuing to monitor and control the reopening process to protect the population from the threat of the COVID-19 virus. On Thursday, there was a significant breakthrough when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the Certificate of Entry system will also cease on November 1st and be replaced by a new web-based ‘Thailand Pass’ system confirming a passenger’s vaccination status to make travelling to Thailand easier.
Just days after what appeared to be a watershed announcement by Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha that the country would reopen on a blanket basis to visitors from an initial list of 10 countries without quarantine and a suggestion that both alcohol and nightlife may be allowed after December, comes news that stronger controls will be maintained. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn, in recent days, there will still be a mandatory one day quarantine requirement for all visitors while he also suggested that there was no going back to the former tourism market with busy nightlife scenes as Thailand seeks a new tourism following. The TAT boss also revealed that he was surprised when the Prime Minister announced the 7-day quarantine rule had been scrapped and emphasised that strong controls must be maintained over the activities of visiting tourists to protect the population from the virus threat.
Thailand, on Thursday, announced that 5 countries will be on the list from where fully vaccinated tourists may bypass quarantine from November 1st. These are China, the United States, Germany, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
However, doubts are already being raised on what has been announced and what will happen on November 1st next.
On major step forward has already been confirmed.
The news, which emerged on Thursday afternoon, that the Certificate of Entry system was being abolished is undoubtedly the most significant one since the crisis began as it had been identified by Thai Examiner readers as the major barrier to travel and visiting Thailand from foreign countries.
Bright lights may be turned on again for foreign tourism as hated Certificate of Entry is to be axed
Just over 24 hours after Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha offered hope to what is left of the foreign tourism industry in the kingdom and for regular visitors who would like to come back, comes a pronouncement by the country’s top state agency official effectively rolling back on what the prime minister appeared to have indicated on Monday night in a live address to the nation.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn expressed surprise at the PM’s Monday night announcement, in particular, the abolition of the quarantine requirement and did concede that this would no longer mean a 7 day quarantine period but suggested it does mean at least a 24 hour quarantine period until the results of a RT-PCR test come back after the arrival of each visitor into the kingdom under what he still suggested would be a controlled process.
Remarks from Governor Yuthasak contrast with those of the PM as he insists controls must be maintained
This contrasts sharply with the Prime Minister’s statement that all incoming visitors from approved countries, with two vaccinations, would be as free as Thai nationals to travel within the kingdom.
We already knew that part of the problem which remained with this proposal was the cumbersome and deeply frustrating Certificate of Entry process but now the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss Mr Yuthasak is saying that while he was surprised by the Prime Minister’s announcement as he had thought that the 7-day quarantine period remained, it is still effectively a one day quarantine period to allow for an initial COVID-19 RT-PCR test to be taken from each visitor and reported.
Many foreigners outside Thailand had begun to see the announcement in an altogether more favourable light.
This Thursday’s news confirms that they were right and that the prime minister on Monday envisages a far more liberal regime very quickly in spite of the red tape that has built up surrounding the ‘sandbox’ systems.
What they wanted is to be allowed, as fully vaccinated visitors, to be able to board a plane flight to Thailand which is now possible for many other destinations once proof of vaccination is provided to the airline involved.
This has now been made possible without the Certificate of Entry process for selected countries but remains firmly in force for others until the list is extended.
It had, up to now, remained the major impediment to a resumption of mass tourism into Thailand
What has changed since Monday night’s speech?
Currently, what has changed since Monday night’s speech by the prime minister is that there will be a major relaxation in respect of the five countries already confirmed, possibly reducing the quarantine requirement from seven days to one day or even a more liberal regime as matters are unfolding.
We are awaiting further briefings from both the Ministry of Public Health and the powerful Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to ascertain how all this will work with other proposals and plans that have been made before the PM’s initiative.
Mr Yuthasak had already made his understanding of the position clear.
He insisted that the commitment from the prime minister that all foreign tourism arrivals from the initial list of countries, which the PM promised would be expanded, would be as free to travel in Thailand as Thai people are themselves, is not quite the position.
Mr Yuthasak’s understanding of the announcement, as reported on Wednesday, was that the reopening to foreign tourists is still being linked to the confusing and at times shambolic, Sandbox schemes designated throughout Thailand which are, at the same time, conditional on each area achieving a 70% vaccination rate.
The current rate for full vaccination nationally is 33% although these areas are being given priority.
Importance of local rates of infection highlighted by the TAT boss as well as continuous monitoring
He explained that his tourism agency and those planning the conditions for incoming foreign tourists must be aware of the zones concerned.
These areas must attain an infection rate of between 5 and 10 people per 100,000 population.
He also spoke of a ‘Command Centre’ to keep monitoring the activity of tourists as his Thai agency’s sandbox schemes open up and spread their wings in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Cha-am, Hua Hin, Pattaya and islands in the eastern region of the country.
‘The announcement to reduce the quarantine days to one is to have an RT-PCR test after first arriving. When the result is negative, you can travel. We will open cities that have international airports such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi, U-Tapao, Surat Thani, Hat Yai. These cities can be accessed everywhere. But after that, they can go all over the country. It’s like a Thai person who has been vaccinated with 2 doses,’ said Mr Yuthasak.
However, with Thursday’s announcement that the Certificate of Entry system is to be abandoned, it remains to be seen how such controls can be enforced.
New position appears to be a significant liberalisation from what was planned but is still very confusing
This situation represents a significant liberalisation of the regime that had been intended last week although final details of these arrangements must be confirmed by both the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the government before being published and explained to Royal Thai Embassies worldwide in advance of the November 1st date.
For many prospective foreign tourists, the situation is not clear.
Based on this new proposed dispensation, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor, who just last week projected only 100,000 visitors this year, has now raised his estimate to up to 700,000 by the end of 2021.
Tourism agency boss was also ambiguous about the need for further RT-PCR testing among travellers
Earlier, Mr Yuthasak had emphasised, however, that the incoming tourists must be managed and screened so that authorities are sure they are properly vaccinated and given the initial RT-PCR tests in Thailand which, in the past, would be in addition to one submitted before they are granted a Certificate of Entry document to access Thailand which also comes with other conditions such as medical health insurance to the value of $100,000.
Mr Yuthasak seemed unaware of the abolition of the burdensome process at that time although he did suggest that the Ministry of Public Health was working on such a scheme.
It emerged on Thursday that the new Travel Pass scheme will be administered by the Department of Disease Control and the Ministry of Public Health and will only involve verifying a T6 declaration and health declaration known as T8 filed by incoming passengers on air flights.
The scheme will not apply to sea and land visitors who will still require a Certificate of Entry.
The TAT boss admitted that the Phuket Sandbox will miss its target for the number of visitors this year but explained that officials have learned a lot from it, namely that it is the first PCR test that is the most valuable in screening incoming tourists.
He said the Phuket experience, which showed only 0.3% of incoming tourists subsequently tested positive, should be viewed as a strong assurance to the Thai public about the proposed reopening.
However, his comments were ambiguous and appeared to suggest that multiple Covid 19 tests may still be required which was not the impression given by Prime Minister Prayut on Monday night.
‘Even Phuket Sandbox, we will miss the target of the number of tourists. But we learned a lot: the infection rate was very low. Here we use the same principle. For those who will enter the country on November 1st, they are fully vaccinated with a full dose of vaccination and RT-PCR test results within 72 hours will be found from the first examination. Or even if it’s the second or third time, the percentage is very low, 0.3% of all sandboxed tourists. We learned from Sandbox that the first check is the best filtering.’
Public health is front and centre, the key concern of all Thai officials in this process of re-opening
The tourism agency boss appeared to put public health ahead of all other considerations when he warned that it would be important to place extended conditions on the travellers entering the kingdom given the danger still posed by even vaccinated tourists particularly to the elderly and pregnant women.
This was why, he explained, a 70% vaccination rate in each area was a critical issue.
The TAT boss also emphasised the need for continued cooperation between government officials at a national, local and state agency level in managing the tourism situation.
‘I would like to say that we will not take the risks of Thai brothers and sisters negotiating to open the country. If we’re not confident, we won’t. With the opening of Phuket, Samui, we haven’t seen any outbreaks among foreign tourists. Another important thing opening up the country is the ‘cooperation’ of local people and government agencies including the private sector and the public sector by having to create a good monitoring system.’
Only five countries confirmed on the initial list
Governor Yuthasak also spoke about which countries may be on the list of up to 10 which may be granted this dispensation from November 1st.
He talked about countries that have allowed travel without quarantine from Thailand while, on the other hand, another determining factor would also be the country’s rate of vaccine uptake and level of infection.
All this will be considered by Thai authorities who now indicate that between 20 and 27 countries may be on the list by December 2021 or January 2022.
On Monday night, the prime minister identified the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, China and Singapore as among the countries to which the kingdom will open up on a blanket situation without quarantine.
The inclusion of these five countries was confirmed by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Thursday.
Mr Yuthasak said that officials would be looking at the situation in 2019 for guidance on this, suggesting that priority may be given to countries that previously enjoyed visa on arrival concessions.
Thai authorities may also be looking closely at the number of tourists from key countries to estimate demand.
Chinese not expected in the short term but they will come, days of large drinking crowds are over
Mr Yuthasak also made it clear that while the prime minister included China on the list, it has banned its nationals from travelling to Thailand at this time although he believed that this will change in due course.
The tourism boss also appeared to pour cold water on the prospect of pubs and entertainment venues reopening, warning that it is unlikely we will see pictures again of large crowds drinking and congregating at such venues given the current environment.
He said this industry remains closed to the Phuket Sandbox and emphasised the line put forward by both himself and Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow, only last week, of Thailand targeting a new sort of foreign tourism.
The governor appeared to reject this aspect of tourism or culture in Thailand going forward.
It will come as disturbing news for many western fans of Thailand and small business operators.
Foreign Affairs ministry to liaise with other countries
‘We may have to adjust the tourism target group. It is a group that has the potential to pay higher or come as a family. But what we are trying to talk about is relief. Visitors in Phuket itself can drink in the restaurant because, for foreigners, drinking can be an eating culture,’ he said.
Regarding which countries the country may be open to, he said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be involved in liaising with its counterparts also as part of this process.
In the meantime, the Association of Thai Travel Agents is sounding a warning to business operators to be wary about the new plans and not to use them as a basis for making investment decisions.
Thai travel industry boss warns members not to base investment decisions on this latest initiative
Sisadiwat Cheewaratanaporn, the President of the association, says that nothing too dramatic is about to happen as the country has already, in theory, reopened but with stringent conditions which he warned will continue to be a barrier to new arrivals.
His comments came before Thursday’s dramatic announcement of the new ‘Thailand Pass’ system which is a game-changer.
He said the situation was simply too difficult for holidaymakers to understand.
He called on the government to give his members clear information with which to market the country to foreign tourism industry customers saying it was simply a matter of good communications and marketing.
‘The key point of receiving tourists is that conditions must be clear, especially about quarantine. How to quarantine? Where can I travel? If this is clear, this will enable operators to communicate with our partners or if tourists come to Thailand themselves. Tourists must be able to receive information from government and private agencies. This is the most important thing. It’s called communication and marketing.’
Business owners more concerned about loans
He also revealed that many hard-pressed business people, at this point, are more interested in hearing about soft loans to refloat their business ventures such is the devastation that has been suffered.
He did believe that foreign tourists will return to Thailand but he said, right now, the situation looks dim and regard must be paid to stubbornly high levels of infection throughout the country which could well yet impact the government’s plans.
He was adamant that business operators should not invest money based on these announcements and ventured to suggest that it will be many years before the sort of profits that were made in the past will again be made in the tourism business which he predicted will take at least until 2024 to recover, in line with many countries, the world over.