Minister Anutin told a public forum on Friday that the Thailand Pass application could still be scrapped but health officials need more time to examine the test data in respect of incoming tourists. Friday’s decision comes as Thailand continues to lag behind its regional peers in the recovery of the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry prompting growing concerns that something may be wrong or that the critical foreign tourism industry may have suffered long term damage because of this emergency despite the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announcing revised projections for up to 8 million foreign tourist arrivals this year with 1 million arrivals to May 9th.
Thailand, on Friday, did away with Thailand Pass for returning nationals from June 1st but retained the system for incoming foreign tourists in a move which will come as a disappointment to the kingdom’s struggling tourism sector. However, the news was not all bad as officials announced that the system would now be automatic with instant access to QR codes without a waiting period. This process will also be accessible to non-vaccinated tourists although these have only accounted for 2% of arrivals so far this year.
Thai officials on Friday did not scrap the Thailand Pass entry system from June 1st as requested by the foreign tourism industry but instead exempted incoming Thai nationals from the procedure while also making it easier and fully automatic for incoming foreign tourists.
It comes as Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin of the kingdom’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) told reporters that the country had seen 1 million arrivals from January 1st this year to May 9th, a figure which is less than 10% of arrivals seen in 2019 but one which dwarfs the number seen last year in Thailand which saw more than 99% of the country’s foreign tourism sector wiped out when compared to figures for both 2020 and 2019.
98% of 1 million tourist arrivals in Thailand up to May 9th last were fully vaccinated – CCSA official
The top official revealed that 98% of those arriving over this period were fully vaccinated.
Friday’s announcement also saw the entry regime improved for non-vaccinated and not fully vaccinated arrivals meaning that they can now also obtain a Thailand Pass QR code by supplying details of RT-PCR test or a professionally supervised antigen test within 72 hours of departure to the Thailand Pass system.
This will then give them full access to the country.
The powerful government committee chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha agreed that the Thailand Pass system would be scrapped for incoming Thai nationals, something proposed at the beginning of this month by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul.
Thailand Pass linked to Emergency Decree as Anutin wants priority for Thais ahead of foreign tourists
At a public forum event at the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre in Bangkok on Friday, Mr Anutin explained that his ministry needed more time before it could approve dropping the Thailand Pass system for incoming foreigners.
Minister tells forum he wants more data on foreign tourists before deciding to scrap Thailand Pass
He said this was based on requiring more detailed information on infection rates for incoming foreigners.
It had been announced repeatedly in recent weeks by officials with both the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Ministry of Public Health that the incoming rate of infection among foreign travellers was far below the rate in Thailand itself.
Nevertheless, the minister disclosed that data in relation to this question must be studied before a conclusion can be reached and that this will take one more month.
‘It’s possible that we will cancel the registration requirement of Thailand Pass for foreigners. We need one more month then we will have a clear answer,’ he told the public audience at the event.
Plan to pursue health measures and a controlled regime even after the emergency comes to an end
He also indicated that his ministry was determined to pursue further vaccination of the population while maintaining vigilance against the lingering threat from the disease while it was pursuing a course of relaxing measures.
‘We have seen the results of our control measures including having a high percentage of the population receive two doses’ he said. ‘That is the reason why we started to relax some regulations.’
The minister praised his officials for making sure the public had full access to medicines and, in particular, singled out telemedicine as an effective innovation at this time.
Some good news, Thailand Pass to become automatic giving instant access to the vital QR entry code
There was still some good news in Friday’s decision for foreign tourists coming to Thailand.
The Thailand Pass system, although retained for foreigners, will now become automatic with instant access to a QR entry code being made available to travellers with different requirements for vaccinated and fully vaccinated travellers.
For fully vaccinated arrivals, the input requirements into the system include passport details, vaccination details and evidence of insurance cover for a minimum of $10,000.
However, the screening procedures at airports will be maintained with the QR code being essential for entry after which there are no further requirements for all foreign visitors.
PM expresses confidence that we have seen signs of a recovery of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry
Deputy government spokesperson Rachada Dhnadirek said the number of foreign tourist arrivals and revenue in the first quarter of 2022 was no less than 2000% of what was seen a year earlier.
She explained that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha sees this as a solid indicator that the industry is poised to grow again.
However, there are growing doubts about the speed of this recovery with a belief that this month’s failure to abolish the unpopular Thailand Pass system could be a factor in exacerbating what industry leaders have pointed to as a failure to maintain momentum.
Boosted numbers after abolishing Test and Go
After the Test and Go regime was scrapped in May, officials suggest that numbers rose from 6,000 per day on average to 20,000 per day towards the end of this month.
Nevertheless, Thailand is still only achieving 25% of its peak level of foreign tourism compared to 72% for Singapore and 65% for the Philippines.
This lag has, so far, been blamed on Thailand Pass and a lack of confidence among potential foreign travellers because of the extended nature of Thailand’s shutdown from 2020 up to the beginning of this year when we saw reversals and continued delays in opening up.
Face masks an issue for western tourists as Singapore already scrapped its outdoor mask mandate in March
An example of this is the issue of face masks with Singapore doing away with its mask mandate for outdoor locations in March even though it is estimated that 90% of Singaporeans still wear them.
By contrast, Thailand’s Minister of Public Health, Mr Anutin, said last week he wished to retain face mask-wearing even after the emergency is declared over and tasked officials with seeing how this could be done.
In the meantime, all 76 Thai provinces require face masks to be worn outdoors with a fine of up to ฿20,000 for non-compliance.
By contrast, mask mandates have been rescinded in most western countries and population centres with most adults choosing not to wear them.
Hopes of a bigger recovery in tourism this year dashed with fears of long term damage to the industry
In recent weeks, Minister Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party cabinet colleague Saksayam Chidchob, the Minister of Transport, had been holding out hope for as many as 22 million visitors to the kingdom this year or just 55% of the 2019 figure but this prospect has receded with growing concern within the industry that the kingdoms tourism industry has suffered long term damage.
This week, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced that it was now projecting more than 1 million visitors per month from June with a revised target of 8 million visitors for the year.
Thailand, according to the latest numbers and other observers, may be on target to achieve approximately 6 million visitors in 2022 or 15% of the number seen in 2019 given that Chinese tourists will not be returning this year.
This is based on a strong recovery in the last quarter of the year with a return to normal including full unrestricted access and a resumption of the full spectrum of the nightlife industry which is seen by foreign tourists as an essential part of Thailand’s appeal as a holiday destination.
Nightlife industry gets boost, but it is a case of too little too late with operators seeking extended opening hours to compensate for two years of loss
This proposal received a boost on Friday when the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) finally agreed to let nightlife venues reopen in blue and green zones covering all tourist hotspots.
The decision means that bars, pubs and karaoke lounges will now be allowed to open until midnight provided that they are fully registered with authorities, conform to quality specifications as laid down by officially approved standards and comply with Ministry of Public Health guidelines.
Nightlife industry proposes reopening of the sector and shakeup with longer drinking hours in hotspots
The delay in responding to the industry request has already seen the original demand to be allowed to reopen superseded by an official request to allow extended opening hours until 4 am for the industry to assist operators in their recovery from the setback of this pandemic crisis which has meant two years of losses with business venues shuttered during this time.