There are signals that the doors to foreign tourism may be reopened again in the coming weeks if not then in the second quarter as the kingdom rolls out its foreign tourism platform for 2022 including a ฿300 levy to be collected via airfares on flights bringing holidaymakers to Thailand. The levy will provide automatic medical insurance to the value of ฿500,000 and a ฿1 million payout in the event of death.
There were strong indications this week that the foreign tourism industry may see some relief in the coming weeks with a review being ordered by the Prime Minister and a commitment to reevaluate the balance between the economy and public health as the threat from the Omicron virus strain of COVID-19 appears to be diminishing.
On Saturday, Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul indicated that the government may be readying to relax the country’s recently enhanced public health measures and defensive posture against the Omicron strain of COVID-19.
He echoed comments by senior officials within his ministry at the beginning of the week that things have taken a turn for the better in the fight against the virus.
He insisted, however, that a threat remains from Covid and emphasised the need for everyone living in Thailand to get vaccinated as a matter of urgency.
Reason to be confident says Minister Anutin
‘This is a reason to be confident, for even though Omicron is highly transmissible it is still less severe than the Delta variant,’ Mr Anutin said. ‘In light of the positive trend, the Public Health Ministry will ask the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to ease as many containment measures as possible quickly. But if there are still threats to public health, the ministry will also propose measures for the public’s safety.’
In recent days, officials at the ministry have been going to lengths to walk back somewhat the positive comments and outlook heard last week from both the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit and Department of Disease Control boss, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, indicating the pandemic may become endemic this year.
‘Currently, the situation has stabilised, but we still need to maintain strict precautions,’ Dr Kiattiphum said. ‘Over the last 14 days, new cases increased quickly in the first week. But caseloads have currently stabilised and are in a declining trend. Severe case numbers continue to go down.’
Similarly, Dr Opas, on Friday, called for caution and cooperation from the public while also holding out hope.
‘We expect that if everybody cooperates, it should become endemic within this year, not today or tomorrow.’
‘Travel and Go’ approved foreign tourists may now enter after the January 15th deadline if they wish
In what appears to be a concession to the foreign tourism industry, a spokesperson for the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), on Friday, announced that all applicants who had prior approval to enter Thailand after the extended cut off point of January 15th under the ‘Test and Go’ programme may now proceed to enter the kingdom.
It was not clear, however, if these visitors can still avail of the more flexible entry regime on which they applied to visit Thailand.
It is assumed that the more flexible entry arrangement does still apply to these travellers.
This was certainly the case with visitors who entered up to Saturday 15th 2022 who were only subject to one night’s quarantine to obtain a test result.
The spokesperson said a further meeting will take place this Friday to clarify matters further.
In an exchange with reporters, CCSA spokesperson emphasised that all future travellers are subject to quarantine and a number of PCR Covid tests
Dr Apisamai Srisangson, in exchanges with reporters, repeatedly stressed that there had been no change in public health policy meaning that an extended quarantine period remains, for now, required under the current entry regimes with an RT-PCR test required before departure for Thailand, on arrival and between 5 to 6 days into the stay here.
She said that this applied to all passengers including both Thais and foreigners travelling to the country at this time.
She also underlined the requirement for all visitors to download a tracking app so that their status and location can be traced while in Thailand while allowing authorities to contact them under the current emergency.
Could be 30,000 more visitors with prior approval under the paused ‘Travel and Go’ entry regime
On Friday, Dr Apisamai said that by the New Year’s holiday this year, 50% of already approved foreign tourists under the easy entry regime had arrived in Thailand.
Some industry insiders suggest that there could be upwards of 30,000 potential foreign tourists who may avail of this concession although this may be optimistic given that many will have already cancelled their travel arrangements due to previous announcements by public health officials.
Losses being suffered by business owners in what should be the High Season for the tourism industry
There has been some indication this week that officials are re-evaluating the situation with calls from within the foreign tourism industry for the government to look again at the decision to suspend the popular ‘Test and Go’ entry regime with scepticism being expressed at the current conditions for attracting foreign tourists by industry leaders and business owners in what should be the peak season for the industry and which is due to fall off precipitously with the more flexible entry criteria being closed to applicants from December 22nd last.
‘Previously approved travellers can still arrive after the January deadline. The CCSA at its next meeting will consider additional measures,’ Dr Apisamai told reporters.
The spokesperson and Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) official explained that the government’s primary goal at this moment is to avoid the public health system becoming overloaded by the Omicron virus sweeping the world.
Prime Minister has ordered a review of the current public health situation and the threat from Omicron
Significantly, Mr Thanakorn revealed, on Thursday, that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha has ordered a review of the current situation regarding the Omicron outbreak.
The PM has asked all government agencies to report on the situation given the less severe nature of this wave despite its more infectious nature.
It is coming amidst lower or more stable levels of infections with a drop in serious cases.
He said the Prime Minister was concerned to achieve a balance between the economy and public health.
In the meantime, he stressed that all business concerns linked with foreign tourism must strictly comply with public health measures designed to protect the population and their continued ability to operate.
‘Despite the Omicron epidemic, in recent days, many European countries and the United States have lifted lockdown measures because many people have been vaccinated. Even though the Omicron strain spreads the infection quickly. But the severity of symptoms is less than Delta. The Prime Minister has ordered all agencies to monitor the situation both within and without the country. We are closely studying foreign cases to make plans to restore the country under the balance of economic and public health. As for the tourism industry, Thailand has been prepared to cope with the situation in which all projects will strictly follow public health measures,’ said Mr Thanakorn.
President of the Thai Hotels Association has called for the new foreign tourism levy of ฿300 to be deferred
News of the concession comes as the President of the Thai Hotels Association, Ms Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, has come out to call on the government to defer a ฿300 entry charge which is due to be levied on incoming passengers from April 1st according to a blueprint for the industry presented this week by officials at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Tourist Levy transformed with a shift of emphasis from its previous purpose of providing badly needed automatic medical insurance cover for visitors
Approximately 11.3% of the charge or ฿34, according to earlier figures, will go towards providing automatic insurance coverage for travellers to Thailand while the rest is earmarked for projects and schemes being developed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to develop the country’s foreign tourism infrastructure and to make the tourism industry more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Late last year a ฿500 levy was agreed
In December, it was reported by the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) that it had already approved a ฿500 fee for incoming tourists.
The insurance cover will be limited to ฿500,000 in medical expenses and ฿1 million in the event of the death of any traveller while in Thailand.
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A key requirement identified in recent years and missing from this scheme is the cost associated with evacuating an injured foreigner or traveller who needs medical treatment at home with such costs often costing between $15,000 and $500,000 depending on the medical state of the foreign patient being transported and the distance required.
Questions about the collection of the levy via airfares for passengers flying into Thailand with Thais exempt
There are also other concerns about the levy including how it will be collected.
It was reported this week that the fee will be added to airfares for passengers entering Thailand while there are talks ongoing on how the levy will be collected at land and sea entry points into the kingdom.
This week, it was also made clear that the foreign tourist levy would not apply to Thai citizens or nationals.
This may make the process of flight ticket sales somewhat more complicated although ministry officials confirmed that they were in discussions with the major airlines and that matters were ready to proceed.
Chamnan Srisawat of the Tourism Council of Thailand has asked for more clarity on the imposition of the new levy and how exactly funds raised from it will be used while expressing approval for the measure in principle.
Levy already postponed this year and has been on the drawing board since 2019 – government spokesman
Government House spokesman, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, pointed out this week that the levy had already been postponed until April this year due to uncertainty over the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
He indicated that the government has made provision for the Omicron strain impacting the kingdom’s economy and incoming foreign tourism in the first quarter of 2022.
He pointed out that the proposed fee has been on the cards since 2019 with constant deferrals.
He highlighted that the fee, which it is estimated will generate at least ฿1.3 billion to ฿1.8 billion this year based on 5 million foreign tourist arrivals, was part of a 20-year national plan to help develop the economy and improve the underlying infrastructure for tourism.
Levy will help boost confidence among foreign tourists which has been badly damaged by COVID-19
Mr Thanakorn said the fee will act as a confidence booster for foreign tourists in Thailand particularly as international confidence in the sector has been damaged by the COVID-19 virus.
Many industry experts have long urged Thailand to bring in such a fee especially to provide automatic insurance for visitors and to avoid the negative publicity associated with frequent crowdfunding appeals from western visitors who in the past few decades have found themselves in distress.
This was emphasised by the Minister of Tourism and Sports Mr Phiphat who highlighted the additional security the levy will offer foreign visitors as well as the benefit that the increased funding will bring to developing the wider foreign tourism industry
Mr Thanakhorn at the Prime Minister’s Office said that in 2022 it is expected that most foreign tourists will be western visitors from the United States or Europe.
However, if the countries borders with Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are reopened this year, he suggested, this would see the figure of 5 million jump to 15 million.
Similarly, if travel with India is restored, then a further 2 million foreign tourists may be expected.
He suggested that if China reopens its now sealed border because of COVID-19, then this could see a further 2 million visitors in the second half of 2022.
Ministry of Tourism and Sports in talks with airlines flying into Thailand to collect the levy through fares
Mr Phiphat confirmed that his ministry had already made arrangements with airlines to implement the new levy from March this year.
He said the ministry was looking at an app for land and sea entry points but specifically excluded foreign workers entering Thailand from the proposed fee.
In its wider briefing on plans to promote Thailand as a foreign tourism destination themed ‘Amazing Thailand New Chapter’, the ministry brought forward plans for what it termed ‘white routes’ and projects to link tourism in Thailand to the BCG or bio-circular -green economy as part of the government’s policies to make foreign tourism more sustainable and safer.
Minister Phiphat said the kingdom’s promotion of Thailand through its worldwide campaign will go ahead despite the recent disruption caused by Omicron.