A key problem emerging for many tourist hotspots in Thailand for the high season is the problem with lack of recognition of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and the Indian Covaxin jab by authorities which may torpedo efforts to fly in tourists from these countries on charter flights. Given alternatives available elsewhere and the new streamlined entry regulations for vaccinated passengers from 46 other countries, Indian and Russian firms are seeing red.

There are growing calls from the foreign tourism sector for the government to eliminate its sandbox schemes and to simplify what is shaping up to be a successful reopening process with regard to other countries outside the 46 countries listed at the end of last week by officials working with Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha. In particular, both Russian and Indian travel firms are unhappy about the absence of their countries from the list and the continued lack of recognition by Thai authorities of the Sputnik and Covaxin vaccines which have not yet been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2019, both Russia and India accounted for 8.7% of all tourist arrivals to Thailand amounting to 3.5 million visitors. The two countries are particularly important markets for segments of the tourism industry that rely on chartered flights.

There is frustration within the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry about both clarity on the new entry regulations and particular problems regarding Indian and Russian tourists who represent nearly 9% of the market and are particularly important in the high season because of incoming charter tours. On Sunday, it was reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be reevaluating the list announced last week of 46 ‘low risk’ countries after both Russia and India were not included while the high profile President of the India Thai Business Association, Satish Sehgal (right), has warned of repercussions.

There have been protests from the travel industry to the government about the exclusion of both Russian and Indian nationals from the top tier of 46 countries listed at the end of the week whose nationals have been exempted from quarantine and other restrictions when entering Thailand.

Over the weekend, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) labelled this first-tier entry regime as ‘Travel and Go’ meaning a minimum of restrictions.

Most tourists will be able to travel freely in Thailand once they pass their first test on arrival here

In Pattaya, where discussions have been ongoing between tourism industry executives and Russian firms to achieve a resumption of charter flights carrying normally high spending Russian tourists, it is reported that the situation is being viewed as a snub.

Similar problems arise with the prospect for Indian tourists and charter tours being planned for this year

There are similar problems concerning Indian tourists who had accounted for a significant share of visitors before the COVID-19 crisis.

In 2019, India accounted for nearly 5% of Thailand’s incoming foreign tourists with 2 million visitors compared to just below 1 million from the United Kingdom and 1.164 million from the United States.

Russia sent nearly 1.5 million visitors accounting for 3.7% of arrivals.

Ferocious response from highly influential India Thai Business Association boss Satish Sehgal on Saturday

On Sunday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seemed to indicate that India and Russia may be included in an ongoing review of the list of ‘first tier’ or ‘low risk’ countries announced last week.

It said that Thailand was reevaluating the list and that changes may be announced in November or December.

It followed a ferocious outburst from Mr Satish Sehgal, the high profile President of the India Thai Business Association, on Saturday.

He indicated that Thailand would lose out on opportunities and other benefits concerning India as a result of the decision. 

He also made it clear that Indian tourists had no interest in the restrictive and complicated ‘sandbox’ concepts that have alienated many foreign tourists and so far, put them off visiting Thailand in critically large numbers.

‘India was not included as part of the Thailand quarantine-free entry list, despite repeated urging for their inclusion from the economic sector and tourism sector,’ said Mr Satish. ‘Many Indian tourists are not interested in ‘Sandbox’ style tourism or blue tourism with a seven-day ‘zone quarantine’ before they can travel to other areas. The average Indian tourist only stays in the country for roughly seven days and wants to be able to travel to different cities and areas during this period, not be constrained to the same province or city. Until Thailand adds India to the low-risk country list, they will continue to lose potentially millions of baht in income.’ 

Still a vaccine issue for Indian and Russian tourists even if their countries are added to the list

A problem remains even if India and Russia are added to the list.

The failure to recognise their national vaccines will still exclude visitors from these markets from both the ‘Travel and Go’and ‘Living in the Blue Zone’ schemes, relegating them instead to an enforced 10 day quarantine period or what the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) euphemistically calls ‘Happy Quarantine’.

Other modes of entry proposed by TAT pose a problem for travel operators now negotiating high season chartered flight access for Russian and Indians

The current situation means that fully vaccinated foreign tourists from these countries are limited to the ‘Living in the Blue Zone’ programme meaning that they are subject to a further antigen COVID-19 test, their travel movements are restricted for seven days and even after this, they are restricted to 17 provinces initially which is expected to grow to 55 by January.

The problem is that most people in Russia and India have been vaccinated with home-produced, national vaccines which are, as yet, unapproved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and therefore are not recognised under the current regulations announced last week by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to support the November 1st reopening.

Negotiations between Pattaya tourism chiefs and Russian firms made more difficult with the news

This weekend, in Pattaya, Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, of the Chonburi Tourism Council revealed that discussions to attract charter flights to Pattaya may be imperilled as Russian representatives are also demanding less restrictions and red tape for their nationals visiting for a winter holiday in the sun.

A similar situation was reported from Phuket where Russian representatives were making the same point even before the streamlined system for 46 countries was announced last week.

The growing issue is with a regulation of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) which specifies that all fully vaccinated visitors must be vaccinated using World Health Organisation approved vaccines as this clause will effectively cut off both the Indian and Russian markets at this time.

Indian and Russian tourists have alternative travel destinations other than Thailand with more flexible entry regulations to choose from.

Both the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and the Indian vaccine Covaxin are not yet approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which, only this week, said that approval for the Russian shot would not be possible in 2021.

Most Indian and Russian tourists arriving here may have to quarantine for up to 10 days because of vaccine recognition issues meaning they are unvaccinated 

This could well mean that many Russian and Indian visitors find themselves relegated to the ‘Happy Quarantine’ programme as outlined by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and being forced into a 10-day alternative quarantine including a multiple tests regime and other restrictions.

This was pointed out this weekend by Mr Thanet of the Chonburi Tourism Council in respect of efforts to attract Indian tourists.

He said many travel firms from these countries would either postpone or cancel trips as long as these impediments remain.

‘It is difficult for Pattaya to attract demand this high season due to the limitations on our major markets like Russia and India, while some low-risk countries still have to attend quarantine back home,’ said Mr Thanet.

Western countries will not require fully vaccinated passengers to quarantine on returning home

Countries on the list announced last week do not require their nationals to quarantine on their return flight home although some have self-quarantine requirements for 7 to 10 days.

These only apply, in the main, to unvaccinated passengers who are not expected to travel in large numbers in any event.

Both the United Kingdom and the United States are currently fully open to fully vaccinated travellers from around the world including their own citizens.

Similarly with Germany which requires a travel pass registration for all incoming passengers including its nationals.

Ko Samui also worried about Russian tours

Problems concerning Russian tourists were raised also by Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, the President of the Tourism Association of Ko Samui.

It is understood that the holiday island is expected to welcome Russian charter flights from December 21st having only received 1,518 travellers from June 1st to October 21st under the current sandbox plan.

The island is also hoping to gain from a reopening of Australia from November although the country is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 infections.

The popular Australian ambassador to Thailand, Mr Allan McKinnon, will be in Ko Samui on November 9th to discuss ways that may facilitate more arrivals from down under.

The recent visit to Thailand by Australian film star Russell Crowe has brought uplifting PR for the kingdom which, so far this year, has welcomed over 57 film crews generating ฿3.5 billion in income as well as projecting Thailand ultimately to international audiences.

Clarification is required about the application of the Thailand Pass system or the ongoing use of the Certificate of Entry system as there is confusion

At present, tourism chiefs in different areas are asking basic questions of the government in Bangkok about the implementation of the reopening plan that is being driven by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to tap into a demand that still exists from the country’s formerly most lucrative markets.

Many of the questions centre around the implementation of the new Thailand Pass streamlined entry scheme which is to be used by nationals from the 46 countries that have been green-lighted to travel without quarantine or the restrictions imposed by the sandbox network while it is understood that the Certificate of Entry system will remain in place for incoming foreign tourists requiring quarantine.

However, this situation may change as the burden of operating two systems of entry, quite apart from the added workload on officials, is likely to produce further confusion.

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Further reading:

Most tourists will be able to travel freely in Thailand once they pass their first test on arrival here

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

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

Finance Minister says economy must pivot away from tourism with a switch to S-Curve industries

Steady as she goes economy driven by exports and public investment with a 3.3% growth rate forecast for 2021