by BERNAMA / pic by BLOOMBERG
BANGKOK – Thailand recorded just 7,694 foreign tourists in January this year – the highest number of monthly tourist arrivals so far since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Thailand in 2020.
However, the Tourism and Sports Ministry’s data showed the figure is minuscule when compared with 3.81 million arrivals in the same month last year.
Thailand closed its borders and banned international passenger flights to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in April last year. It recorded zero foreign visitors from April to September last year. The number of foreign tourists plummeted by 83 per cent to 6.7 million in 2020 compared to almost 40 million in 2019.
In reviving its battered tourism industry, Thailand has been opening its doors gradually to foreign visitors since October last year. It launched a slew of initiatives to help its struggling tourism-reliant economy but received a lukewarm response.
However, the 14-day quarantine at Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotels, COVID-19 tests as well as health insurance in an amount of at least USD 100,000 that cover all expenditures of medical treatment for travellers flying to the “Land of Smiles” were too expensive.
From offering Special Tourist Visa (STV) allowing stays up to nine months in the kingdom, Thailand also offers a unique quarantine experience for foreign tourists entering the kingdom. They can choose to undergo 14-day quarantine at golf resorts, villa quarantine, and yacht quarantine.
In its latest initiative to woo tourists, Thailand offered villa quarantine where foreign tourists entering the kingdom undergo mandatory quarantine at one of the luxurious hotels on the resort island of Phuket. The first group of 58 travellers completed the villa quarantine pilot project at Sri Panwa in Phuket in early March.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said the initiatives pave the way for ‘area quarantine’ tentatively scheduled from next month.
‘Area quarantine’ will cover five provinces favoured by international travellers namely Phuket, Krabi, Surat Thani (which include Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao), Chiang Mai, and Chon Buri (which include resort island Pattaya). In these provinces, they will quarantine in the room for the first three days and when COVID-19 test results are negative, they are allowed out of their rooms at the resort and hotels.
The Tourism Sports and Ministry hoped tourism personnel in these provinces could get COVID-19 jabs soon in preparing to welcome foreign visitors from low-risk countries as early as July.
To woo international travellers, Thailand will reduce its mandatory quarantine from two weeks to 10 days starting April 1.
Besides that, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said Thailand would also further shorten quarantine for vaccinated travellers to seven days once the nation is ready.
Thailand may even stop imposing compulsory quarantine for travellers from low-risk countries starting Oct 1. However, travellers from countries with fast transmissible variant will continue with the 14-day quarantine.
While Thailand is hopeful in reviving its battered tourism sector, some appear sceptical over the arrival numbers including Bank of Thailand (BoT) that lowered Thailand’s tourist arrival estimate to 3 million foreign tourists this year compared with 5.5 million projected previously.
At the same time, a Maybank analyst attributed the less than targetted number of arrivals to the slow pace of vaccination in Thailand.
Since rolling out the vaccination drive on Feb 28, only 54,000 or 0.1 per cent of its almost 70 million population have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, as of March 13.
A tuk-tuk driver in Bangkok known as Surasak said all initiatives to welcome foreign tourists could save the tourism industry and local communities.
“I hope the vaccination drive works as well as safety and health measures, (it) will keep the risk of spreading COVID-19 low… I hope more tourists will visit Thailand soon. I will be very happy when they are coming back as it means I will make more money,” he told Bernama.