Comments by Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports on Thursday to industry representatives of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, while appearing to be positive news for tourists, highlighted how far off Thailand may be from fully regenerating its lost foreign tourism industry and massive foreign currency earner which brought in $62 billion in 2019. The Minister claimed that the country could generate the same income seen then by 2024 while at the same time admitting that more needs to be done to address both the industry’s competitiveness and visitor safety.
Speaking at an event on Thursday, Thailand’s tourism minister signalled that the Test and Go regime and the associated Thailand Pass application may be both suspended and withdrawn as early as June 1st next. However, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn caused some confusion when he indicated that authorities may opt to retain an antigen test for all passengers on arrival to assuage public concern about the still circulating COVID-19 virus. This is not in line with a definite four-phase plan outlined by the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Public Health Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit over the last week which envisages the full removal of all measures impinging on incoming passengers, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, by July 1st next. That plan envisages a full return to entry procedures as they existed before the emergency.
Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has come out to suggest that both the Thailand Pass system and the successful Test and Go regime, introduced on November 1st last, may be scrapped by June 1st if the infection rate for the COVID-19 virus in the kingdom remains at a moderate level during April which sees the country’s Songkran celebrations for the new year.
Last year, this sparked the third wave of COVID-19 which proved the most deadly and again brought economic activity in Thailand to a low ebb.
Call lies ultimately with the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), Minister clarified
Mr Phiphat made it clear to his tourist audience that the decision lies ultimately in the hands of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) under the government’s Emergency Decree which has been extended in recent days to May 31st 2022.
He also underlined that the decision would depend on the advice and judgement of officials within the Ministry of Public Health who have already laid out a four-phase path to the abolition of all controls on incoming travellers ending in the suspension of the Thailand Pass approvals process from July 1st next, for all incoming travellers.
Retention of an antigen test on arrival a backward step from the complete abolition of measures suggested for July 1st by the Ministry of Public Health
However, speaking to the Association of Thai Travel Agents on Thursday, the minister appeared to add a new condition to the plan already outlined by the Ministry of Public Health that would see the retention of an antigen test on arrival for all passengers.
This would be a step backwards from the current situation.
In the blueprint, outlined in recent days by the Ministry of Public Health through permanent secretary Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, all passengers entering Thailand from May 1st who are vaccinated will require no further tests or interaction with authorities with the removal of the Thailand Pass system on July 1st bringing an end to all controls imposed on incoming passengers and a reversion to entry arrangement as they existed before March 2020 except for the retention of Thailand Pass and an antigen test for non-vaccinated arrivals.
These are then scheduled to be withdrawn by July 1st.
Test to be administered by medical professionals
Speaking to travel industry representatives on Thursday, the minister indicated that the new antigen tests proposal would see antigen tests administered by medical professionals at the airport to boost public confidence in the industry.
Currently, Phase two of the four-phase programme, outlined by the Ministry of Public Health, is due to commence on April 1st next with the removal of a PCR test requirement within 72 hours of departure for Thailand.
The minister was also adamant that any liberalisation of the regime would depend on virus infection rates within Thailand which also differs somewhat from the blueprint outlined by the Ministry of Public Health which indicated that the green light to push ahead with each phase in the four-step plan would be dependent on infection rates among incoming travellers.
Goal set by the Public Health Ministry for removal of all entry controls was an incoming infection rate lower than 1% for the fourth and final stage
This set a goal of infection rates being below 1% before the full abolition of entry controls could proceed with rates of between 1% and 3% running up to May 1st when fully vaccinated travellers would be allowed to enter Thailand without any test or quarantine arrangements whatsoever.
Travel sector calls for endemic status, scrapping of Thailand Pass and full normality on entry to the country
On Thursday, Minister Phiphat told his audience that the new proposal from his ministry would be dependent on infection rates across Thailand after Songkran including positive antigen tests, being below 50,000 to 60,000 cases per day and the death rate from the disease being under 100.
He indicated that his ministry would submit proposals to speed up easier access to the country in May after it received the data from April.
Minister sees only 7 million foreign tourists this year but predicts they will be spending bigger, on average, 71% more. 30% of 2019 receipts targeted this year
The minister was less bullish than the Tourism Authority of Thailand when he predicted that a visitor target of 10 million tourists in 2022 would not be achieved and suggested a figure of 7 million arrivals for the year.
The current Tourism Authority of Thailand target remains 18 million visitors or 45.23% of what was seen in the last normal year for the tourism industry which also saw a record-setting volume of arrivals and generated nearly ฿2 trillion or $62 billion for the Thai economy.
The urgency of restoring the foreign tourism trade in Thailand was emphasised this week with concerns being expressed at the country’s continuing high current account deficits in the face of lower tourism income and sky-high imports due to a massive rise in oil costs.
Mr Phiphat predicted that the average income per arrival in 2020 will increase by as much as 71% when he estimated that the 7 million visitors in 2022 could spend as much as 30% of the record $62 billion earned in 2019 or an average spend of $2,650 or ฿88,775 based on the current dollar to baht rate of ฿33.50 which has climbed by4% since the war in Ukraine broke out on the 24th of February.
Full recovery in terms of income by 2024
He said that Thailand could see 50% of the receipts seen in 2019 in 2023 with a full recovery by 2024.
On Thursday, speaking within a wider context regarding the challenges facing the vital foreign tourism industry which drives 20% to 25% of the kingdom’s GDP, the minister made reference to the country’s ranking on the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index prepared by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Figures from Phuket Sandbox show a high level of indirect economic activity which suggests that foreign tourism drives up to 26% of the kingdom’s GDP
‘The Ministry of Tourism is proposing to the government and experts that the time has come to drop public health measures to open the country. Thailand started like a rabbit, running quickly last year as we reopened to visitors. We cannot let the country fall behind as many nations are opening borders and have fewer restrictions than us. The target of the Thai tourism industry is that by 2022 we will have seen at least 7 million foreign tourists coming to Thailand from the target of 10 million, and this year’s tourism revenue will recover at 30% of the tourism income seen in 2019. In 2023, the income will recover by 50%, and in 2024, income will recover 100%, equal to 2019,’ Mr Phiphat explained to his audience.
The minister referenced the 2019 tourism competitive index from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and said he wanted to see an improvement in Thailand’s performance.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an influential non-governmental organisation based in Cologny near Geneva in Switzerland. It was founded in 1971 by German engineer Klaus Schwab.
Minister, looking to the long term, wants Thailand’s tourism industry to upgrade its performance based on international metrics, more competitive and safer
In 2019, Thailand ranked 31st on the list with a score of 4.5 or 17.33% off the world leader which was Spain which also has the largest foreign tourism industry in the world.
To put this in perspective, the bottom of the table saw Chad and Yemen which were recorded with a score of 2.5 and 2.4 respectively 0r 53.62% and 55.55% off the top spot.
Thailand ranked ahead of countries such as Brazil, Malta, India and the United Arab Emirates while it trailed countries such as Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore and China.
The list was headed by Spain, Germany, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Italy, Canada and Switzerland.
Safety of tourists is also a priority
The minister also spoke of Thailand’s tourist safety record as a key priority and concern for his department.
It follows an intervention by Mr Phiphat last year after the murder of Swiss tourist Nicole Sauvain-Weisskopf in Phuket when the minister ordered a review of security for tourists in Thailand which recommended a package of measures.
Thailand ranks as a moderately safe country in a foreign tourism index prepared by travelsafe-abroad.com.
Thailand has a real problem with tourist safety, it is below par in world terms due to a range of factors
In this index, the kingdom is given a score of 48 out of 100 from the countries listed and is given an orange tag in the traffic light system used by the service.
Thailand finds itself decidedly at the bottom half of the table which is led by countries such as Australia which has a score of 92.
World Travel Safety Index – Thailand only achieves a score of 48 as Tourism Minister seeks improvement
The travel safety index is headed by Iceland at 95 and Denmark at 94 and has some surprising entries with France achieving only a score of 64.
Worrying for Thailand is that while it is just ahead of India with its 47 points, it is only 7 points ahead of Ethiopia and 16 points ahead of Chad.
Kingdom’s notoriously dangerous roads, road safety behaviour and motorbikes are key concerns as well as pickpocketing and bag snatching in tourist hotspots
Among the key dangers that visitors were warned about in Thailand are the country’s notoriously dangerous roads and public disregard for road safety.
The site urges visitors to be wary of motorbikes, the number one cause of death for tourists in Thailand.
UK lad was riding his motorbike illegally when killed in January – bike shop fined by Thai police for an offence
The report on Thailand warns that some parts of the kingdom are safer than others with the safe ones being on a par with western countries while other areas have been designated as ‘high risk’.
The guidance on the kingdom signals it as medium risk for bag snatching and pickpocket activity.
It particularly warns that this danger may be more prevalent in high-density tourist areas such as Phuket and Pattaya.
Police chief orders mental health evaluation of the main suspect in the brutal slaying of a UK tourist
There is also a medium risk flag relating to terrorism, particularly in southern Thaiand’s border region with Malaysia where an active insurgency rages.
Real danger linked with confrontational behaviour
There is also a medium-term risk of mugging while the site deems Thailand a high risk for natural disasters including tsunamis and severe storms.
The advisory also warns visitors to be circumspect when talking about Thailand’s royal institution and not to get involved in confrontational situations in bars or public places as such affairs are likely to become unpredictably violent.
In late January 2022, 49-year-old UK man Marcus Evans, a tourist from Burnham-on-Sea, in Somerset was cut down with a slash to the throat and neck from a long sharp knife by an irate young Thai man, with whom he had previously been on friendly terms, after the foreigner had spent a Friday evening drinking beer with friends outside a rented house in the centre of Kanchanaburi and refused requests from locals to turn down the volume on a music player.
22-year-old Prasot Thipthep was later sent for a mental health evaluation after police arrested him on foot of a provincial court warrant for the murder of the British man within hours of the tragedy.