The decision by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to reopen the kingdom on the 1st November more decisively and liberally appears to be delivering results but it comes in a country where polls show a strong majority of the public opposed to the move. Foreign tourism and Thailand’s accessibility to foreigners, although never discussed overtly, has political undertones ahead of what is shaping up to be a General Election in 2022 with rising public support for one.
The reopening of Thailand on Monday with 1,534 incoming foreign tourists arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport now looks like it could be a prelude to the kingdom achieving anything between 500,000 and 1 million holiday visitors in 2021. It stems from a volte-face by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on October 11th which came after it was becoming increasingly clear that hope for the industry, this year, was fading fast. Now a Thai Examiner survey is showing that there has been a marked improvement in the attitude of foreigners towards visiting Thailand and also an improvement in the perception of the new entry regime. However, significantly, more than two-thirds of respondents believe that Thailand will never regain its 2019 pinnacle as one of the world’s leading holiday destinations with the same volume of incoming tourists.
Figures released by the Minister of Transport on Monday for arrivals at Suvarnabhumi Airport on the first day of reopening showed that 1,534 foreign tourists flew into the airport in the 24 hour period aboard a total of 61 flights operated by 27 airlines.
Reports for the airport across all government agencies suggested that the reopening process went smoothly except for an admission from the manager of the airport, Mr Kittipong Kittikachorn who highlighted congestion around screening areas as terminal officials checked the vaccination documents for incoming passengers.
Prime Minister monitoring the reopening from the COP 26 Summit in Glasgow Scotland, so far so good
There have also been some isolated reports of small bugs or issues with the Thailand Pass system but these are being overcome by foreigners looking forward to returning to the kingdom.
Government spokesman, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, who was monitoring Monday’s reopening on behalf of the Prime Minister who is reportedly taking an active interest in the process at home while attending the COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow Scotland, confirmed that all went smoothly.
Officials at the Ministry of Public Health handling the Thailand Pass vaccination status from information scanned via QR codes reported that the system worked smoothly while Immigration Bureau officers at the airport thought the processing of incoming passengers may well be speedier in the days ahead.
At least 85,000 foreign tourists expected to pass through Suvarnabhumi Airport during November
The Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob has confirmed that there are already 135,407 passengers booked to enter Thailand through Suvarnabhumi Airport in November of which 85,306 are estimated to be foreign tourists and this excludes incoming passengers at Phuket International Airport which also saw arrivals yesterday including an Edelweiss flight from Zurich carrying 229 inbound tourists, the first to arrive on the island under the new reopening programme.
These numbers are expected to increase with shorter lead-in times now required for passengers interested in visiting Thailand and the entry system being seen to work smoothly
On Monday, other airports which are part of the ‘Test and Go’ programme including Chiang Mai, U-Tapao, Samui and Buri Ram Airports were not yet open or receiving visitors.
Numbers to rise with confidence as Thai Examiner poll shows 47% of respondents interested in visiting Thailand in the next 3 months during High Season
Many observers feel that the initial two weeks of the reopening will be slower as many foreigners wait and see how the programme goes but the opening day and the projected arrivals already for November suggest that Thailand may well be on track to see between 500,000 and 1 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2021.
The brighter outlook comes with positive news from the Thai Examiner survey which had 487 respondents from October 27th up to November 1st which showed a complete reversal of attitude among regular visitors to Thailand with 88% now indicating that they will holiday in Thailand over the next 12 months.
Even more positive, the research suggests that 47% of these were planning to do so in the next three months with a further 34% planning to come within a six-month time frame.
50% said they fully understood the Thailand Pass system but 85% said it could be made simpler to use
There was also some encouraging news for the reopening process with 50% saying that they had a good understanding of the Thailand Pass system while the other half of respondents felt they needed to find out more about how it operates.
On the other hand, 85% of respondents said that the process could be made even simpler.
The bad news for Thai economic planners is that well over two-thirds of respondents felt that Thailand’s glory days of foreign tourism may be behind it with 69% replying that the country would not be able to regain past heights seen in the foreign tourism trade. Only 31% felt it was possible.
Fans of Thailand are sceptical that it will ever see over 40 million tourists again in a changed post virus era
Following this, only 0.7% of respondents to the Thai Examiner poll felt that Thailand was likely to see more than 40 million tourists in 2022.
This was what the country achieved in 2019 while the largest cohort, 44% of the sample, felt that next year the kingdom will see 5 to 10 million visitors with only 26% feeling it would be more than this while 30% thought it would be less than 5 million.
Based on Monday’s reopening success and the positive atmosphere it generated, it may well be that the outlook will improve particularly if the ban on Thailand’s vibrant nightlife is removed as indicated after December 1st.
‘It’s been too long,’ said happy German man Andre Winkler as he landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport
On Monday, AFP News Agency interviewed 55-year-old Andre Winkler from Germany coming off Thai Airways flight TG91 from Paris.
‘We are very, very happy,’ he told the reporters. ‘We stay in Thailand for six months every year during the winter because in Germany it’s cold. The last time, before Corona, we came to Thailand was in 2019, it’s been too long.’
In Phuket, the news agency spoke with 57-year-old Susanne Peter after she arrived from Zurich: ‘We love the people, they are really kind and really friendly.’
The Minister of Transport, Mr Saksayam so far, is projecting 142,475 foreigners to arrive through all airports in November.
PM’s Office spokesman expressed satisfaction with Monday’s overall atmosphere at Suvarnabhumi
On Monday, the government spokesman, Mr Thanakorn, expressed satisfaction with the day’s outcome and in particular, the positive atmosphere at Suvarnabhumi Airport where travellers were being ferried in special Airports of Thailand (AOT) taxis to their initial Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus hotels for their first night and COVID-19 tests which, for many, will be the end of any official restrictions except for the need to update their health status daily on the government’s MorChana app provided.
Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang expressed confidence that the eased restrictions and the planning that has gone into the system, designed to welcome prospective incoming tourists, will help boost confidence and allow them to enjoy their holiday in Thailand.
Officials say it is unlikely that incoming passengers will test positive although this and the resumption of nightlife are key factors in sustaining this recovery
Officials, on Monday, were stressing that it was unlikely that arriving passengers would test positive.
However, in Phuket, from July to the end of September, 0.3% of nearly forty thousand incoming passengers afterwards tested positive, most frequently on the first test.
This issue and the progress on removing the nightlife ban will be factors to watch as the success of the programme in the medium term is critical to the future of the kingdom’s tourism industry and the Thai economy which cannot survive without foreign tourism as a key economic engine.
For the government, Monday was certainly a positive first step in reopening Thailand to tourism but it is clear that there is a long way to go to fully revive the industry and reach its former peaks if that is possible at all in what appears to be a very changed world emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thailand faces the strong possibility of a General Election in 2022, this reopening is the work of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and showed leadership
It is also a changing world in Thailand which is increasingly on the verge of a General Election which is expected early next year.
Unfortunately, the foreign tourism industry, although unacknowledged, has become a political football with polls consistently showing a majority of the population opposed to the more decisive and liberal nature of this reopening.
The change appears to have originated from a decisive volte-face by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on the 11th October, just as hopes for a revival of the industry this year were fading with lower than expected figures for September reported last week by the Bank of Thailand and comments from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss, Yuthasak Supasorn, only a week before the PM’s intervention, at a Bangkok Forum suggesting that foreign tourist arrivals in 2021 would be less than 100,000 people.