Thailand May Not Reopen to Foreign Visitors Until 2021

The government is taking no chances given the resurgence of Covid-19 across the Asia-Pacific region.

Sunrise over the isthmus on Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand. (Photo: Evan Krause/Unsplash)

If you live outside Thailand, the chance of jetting off to Bangkok, Phuket, or Chiang Mai for a year-end holiday is looking increasingly slim. According to TTG Asia, Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya—the deputy governor for international marketing at the Tourism Authority of Thailand—has predicted that the country’s borders would remain shut to international leisure travelers for the next few months. “I see no signal from the government that the country will open this year,” he said. “The Christmas period, usually the high season, is in jeopardy and I’m looking horribly even to Chinese New Year in February, which is an iffy proposition at best now.”

Back in June, the Thai government mulled setting up bilateral travel bubbles with regions that had appeared to bring the disease under control. But a subsequent surge of cases in Japan—combined with fresh outbreaks in mainland China, Hong Kong, and then Vietnam—saw those plans and the relevant discussions come to a grinding halt.

Representatives of Thailand’s hard-hit tourism sector are now proposing a new, more flexible scheme called “Safe and Sealed,” which would let in travelers from specific cities that had no new Covid-19 infections for at least 30 days. All overseas visitors would be tested within 72 hours of departure, stay in designated hotels and provinces while in Thailand, and be in the country for no less than a month.

Right now, foreigners with permission to enter Thailand don’t just include diplomats and UN officials regardless of their country of origin, but also business investors from five Asian countries or regions (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea), as well as film crews and convention exhibitors. All eligible visitors will need to spend 14 days in quarantine on arrival. Small groups of medical tourists are also being allowed in, and will be free to travel around Thailand after their two-week self-isolation periods have been completed.

However, those limited numbers will not be enough to keep the local hospitality and travel sector afloat; as many as four million workers in Thailand depend on tourism for their incomes. Last week, Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association, told reporters at the Bangkok Post that between 30 and 40 percent of those employed in the Thai hotel industry had lost their jobs over the past six months. She added that only about half of all hotels across the kingdom had reopened.

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