Travel agents in France have been forced to cancel contracts because of the sudden introduction of entry restrictions which have led operators to declare a ‘Force Majeure’ situation due to ‘political instability’ in Thailand while chartered flights to Phuket face cancellation, as it is reported that over half the Russian holidaymakers, were found to be unvaccinated. German travel firms have warned that the new rules will damage confidence in Thailand’s tourism industry and cited a figure of 20% of holidaymakers as not being vaccinated.
The President of a leading Thai tourism body has written to Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha asking him to intervene after the foreign tourism trade was thrown into chaos over the weekend with news that Thailand’s civil aviation authority was relying on international airlines to ban travellers to Thailand without a Covid vaccine after new regulations were drawn up by a meeting of key ministries on Thursday. Thaneth Tantipiriyakij of the Phuket Tourist Association has revealed that thousands of hotel nights have already been cancelled and that the fallout from the emergency has drawn an extremely negative reaction from travel businesses in European and Scandinavian countries who have warned that confidence in Thailand has been damaged by the sudden measures which came into effect on Sunday and apply to any flight landing from 1 am on Monday.
Thailand’s tourism chiefs raised the alarm on Sunday after it became clear that flights entering Thailand from that point were to be subjected to the new entry regime agreed upon at a meeting of officials from four ministries on Thursday last which reintroduced a requirement for proof of vaccination among incoming passengers.
The news over the weekend that the new restrictive regime was to be administered by the international airline industry in coordination with the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has prompted mass cancellations from tourists travelling from Russia, Germany, France as well as other western countries where travel agents and tour operators had just begun again to recommend foreign tourists visit the kingdom.
Phuket tourism chief has written to the PM General Prayut Chan ocha emphasising the urgency of this situation and loss of confidence in Thai tourism
On Sunday, it emerged that the President of the Phuket Tourist Association, Mr Thaneth Tantipiriyakij has written urgently to Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha explaining the seriousness of the situation and pleading with him to find a solution to what is fast becoming a threat to the country’s foreign tourism recovery.
Even as it stands, with 2022 arrivals estimated to be 11.5 million foreign tourists, the recovery in Thailand has paled in comparison to its international peers with large foreign tourism economies who in 2022 recorded a substantial increase in arrival numbers and spending well above that seen in 2019 while Thailand only achieved a 29% share of its 2019 arrivals and a 14% reduction in expenditure per capita.
The reason for this was the absence of long-haul foreign tourists from western countries put off by a 40 to 50 % hike in fares as airline operators prioritised more profitable routes resulting in Thailand losing at least 40% of its flight connectivity compared to 2019.
Biting restriction to negatively impact the confidence of top airlines flying to Thailand some of whom have already expressed concern over ‘uncertainty’
The situation has also been impacted by the effective closure of China’s borders to foreign tourism.
Ironically, the reopening of China to two-way travel due to the elimination by communist authorities of the country’s unpopular zero Covid restrictive policies has promoted the current crisis in Thailand.
There has also been caution and scepticism expressed within the airline industry about the Thai government’s unpredictable history in dealing with the ongoing crisis since 2019 which has created uncertainty about the country among top airline bosses.
After this weekend’s unfolding debacle, this will be an even greater factor with an industry currently in shock since most observers assumed after the virus was declared endemic in Thailand in October 2022, no such further restrictions would be announced.
Top airline boss cautious about government’s plan to end emergency measures for the foreign tourism sector
Last year, this reticence was expressed openly by Mr Tariq Al Mutawa, the country manager for Emirates, the airline which flew in 32% of visitors to Thailand in 2021 when he pointed out that airlines, at that time, were reluctant to apply additional resources to Thailand because public health considerations in the kingdom changed quickly and unpredictably.
Shock decision last Thursday after authorities declared the virus endemic in October 2022 urging people to return to normal and live with Covid
Thailand declared the Covid virus endemic last year in October with the country urged by officials to live with the disease while all entry criteria for travellers were removed entirely.
Even before that, there were no inspections concerning the covid status of visitors and unvaccinated passengers were never barred from travelling to the kingdom.
The regime which came into effect on Sunday now means that passengers who are not vaccinated in their countries of origin may not board planes to Thailand and risk losing their airline fees and hotel bookings in the kingdom.
Before Thursday’s decision taken by the four key ministries of Transport, Public Health, Tourism and Foreign Affairs, there was no clear indication then as to what might be decided leaving the industry taken aback by the strong measure that has now been enforced across the airline network sparking Covid chaos in Thailand’s travel industry.
In his urgent letter to the prime minister on Sunday, Mr Thaneth said the latest requirements for proof of vaccination would severely impact attempts to restore the country’s foreign tourism industry in 2023.
Thailand depends economically on a marked improvement in its foreign tourism recovery in 2023 which so far has lagged well behind world peers
Thailand, economically, is dependent on a recovery of its tourism sector with a target set to achieve 50% of the figures seen in 2019 in 2023 or 20 million visitors to achieve a GDP growth rate of 3.2 to 3.7% with expected headwinds in exports this year caused by higher borrowing costs worldwide and the threats of recession or at best negligible economic growth worldwide.
Among the complaints outlined by the travel industry boss to the PM on Sunday in his letter was the cancellation of holidays booked from Scandinavia by travel agents as they were unable to offer confident guidance and advice to their travelling clients due to the speed and haste of the decision which emerged from the meeting on Thursday and as implemented across the flight network on Sunday.
The initial pretext for the summit of the key ministries last Thursday was a proposal to offer free vaccines on a voluntary basis to all incoming visitors promoted by Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, something that was abruptly dismissed afterwards by his cabinet and Bhumjaithai Party colleague Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who insisted that all vaccinations and medical care in Thailand must be paid for by foreigners according to local charge rates when asked by reporters puzzled as what had happened to Mr Phiphat’s scheme on Thursday.
German tourism bosses warn that the decision on Thursday and the confusion has damaged confidence in Thailand as a tourist destination
Tourism bosses in Germany, over the weekend, have made it clear to their Thai counterparts that the decision by the Thai government on Thursday and its implementation has damaged confidence in Thailand’s tourism industry, certainly in regards to bookings being made for clients in the foreseeable future.
This will take some time to rectify and will have damaged the country’s prospects in the medium term.
Indeed this negative perception or reputation caused by the unpredictable nature of such decisions showing scant regard for tourist planning of often expensive holidays particularly involving long haul flights and long stays since 2020 may explain the already dampened foreign tourism recovery which is significantly lagging behind nearly all other countries.
The German tour operators are understood to have cancelled 1,000 room nights alone in Phuket and have made it known to Thai operators that at least 20% of German people are not vaccinated or 20% of their customers.
Travellers left in legal limbo as firms resort to ‘force majeure’ with contracts voided due to sudden policy change blamed on ‘political instability’
The nature of the Thai government’s order implemented through the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), also means that travellers who have paid for flights and even deposits may not now seek a refund leaving both themselves, the tour operators or agencies concerned and the airlines in legal limbo as to who bears liability for the debacle.
Similar reports have been received from France where French operators have also cited the legal situation that travellers and transport sector operators who now find themselves at a financial loss because of the change of status of flyers without notice in the space of just three days from Thursday to Sunday.
French tour operators have been advised that they will have to declare the reason for voiding the contracts as force majeure because of ‘political instability’ in Thailand.
The same situation and negative reaction were cited by Russian tour operators who are particularly badly impacted by the sudden decision of ministers on Thursday because the Russian public in particular has a large number of unvaccinated people due to vaccine scepticism in the country.
Over half the passengers booked on some chartered flights bound for Thailand from Russia said to be unvaccinated foreign tourists causing cancellations
This is understood to have already led to the cancellation of chartered flights as a significant number of inbound foreign tourists from Russia may now not travel.
Some sources have suggested that over half of those travelling from Russia on pending chartered flights have found themselves suddenly denied entry to Thailand because of the new Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) requirements.
The new rules impose a duty on the airlines to screen passengers as to their vaccination status and to deny any passenger boarding a flight to Thailand for failing to meet the entry criteria or being unvaccinated.
The measure took effect from Sunday and will apply to any flight entering Thailand after 1 am on Monday.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has indicated that the measures will be in place until at least the end of January 2023.
Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul insisted on a ‘nondiscriminatory’ policy at Thursday’s meeting unlike many other countries
Thailand’s approach to the problem of an expected resumption of foreign tourism from China has differed from many other countries particularly western countries which have imposed restrictions specifically on Chinese arrivals, a situation that, this week, sparked outrage and condemnation from Beijing.
That may explain the presence of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the key meeting on Thursday which was confirmed later by Minister of Public Health and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who emphasised that Thailand’s approach was resolutely not to discriminate against travellers from any country while stating that all new measures would be applied broadly to all incoming visitors.
In this, he was also supported by senior medical experts in Thailand such as respected virologist Dr Yong Poovorawan.
In western countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Italy, authorities have made it clear that there is ample justification for special test requirements to be applied to travellers whose flights originate in China.
The absence of trustworthy or comprehensive data from Chinese authorities has been cited this week by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other countries as justification for such tests.
Widespread infection and death in China
This was because of an absence of proper and full data from China as the country suffers its biggest wave of Covid with reports that over 70% of the population of Shanghai with 26.32 million residents had been infected.
There are reports of millions of cases a day in mainland China with hospitals overflowing and crematoria with long public queues and a cynical requirement for all families to sign a document stating their dead relative had not died of the virus before their remains could be processed.
In the meantime, communist party authorities have published clearly false or misleading data stating that deaths from Covid were in low double-digit numbers.
Last week, this drew a questioning response from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva with a spokesman even defending the discriminatory treatment of travellers from China based on the Chinese government’s failure to supply full and accurate data to their counterparts in other countries.
China’s official data questioned by WHO Director Mike Ryan who said he believes it underrepresents the situation in the troubled country as it opens up
Earlier, Dr Mike Ryan, the Emergencies Director of the international health body addressed the situation in China: ‘We know there are difficulties in all countries very often in recording hospital releases, admissions and use of ICU (intensive care unit) facilities,’ he said. ‘We believe that the current numbers being published from China underrepresents the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths.’
The imposition of the screening between vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers on international airlines before boarding flights for Thailand has come as a resounding shock to between 15% and 25% of potential visitors to the kingdom in the last week while causing chaos and potential financial loss to those who had already booked and paid for their trips to Thailand.
It is also leading to thousands more rejecting the country as a holiday destination in the coming months.
This trend already began in 2020 and 2021 with many western holidaymakers and regular visitors to Thailand opting to find alternative destinations such as the Maldives, Dominican Republic, Cambodia or Vietnam for an exotic low-cost sunshine holiday, due to the country’s shifting and unpredictable public health policies.
Another blow to tourism as India imposes tests on flights from Thailand due to new risk posed by China
This blow to the country’s tourism prospects and an already disappointing and slow-moving recovery is also coming with the decision by India to apply a RT-PCR test requirement to all visitors from Thailand including returning Indian tourists, a move which is bound to curb traffic from what had been Thailand’s second most important market in 2022.
In the meantime, Chinese travellers began arriving in Thailand with 200 visitors aboard a Xiamen Airways flight which arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Sunday and a projected ramping up of flights which could see as many as 350,000 visitors in the first three months of 2023 including the Chinese New Year period.
Thai nationals or passport holders are exempt from the latest vaccination requirement for incoming travellers under the regulation drawn up by the high-powered meeting on Thursday which also specified a face mask requirement for all flights inbound for Thailand and an advisory to arrivals that face masks be worn on public transport in Thailand.