Home Business

Thailand may see no foreign tourists until October, TAT governor says

Thailand Tourism Empty Beaches

Thailand may not see the arrival of any foreign tourists until at least October, the head of the country’s tourism authority said.

“It is still dependent on the outbreak situation, but I think at the earliest, we may see the return of tourists could be the fourth quarter of this year,” Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, told CNN Wednesday.

The country’s borders have been virtually closed for two months as part of a coronavirus lockdown that has crushed community transmission of Covid-19.

Thailand has reported no cases of the virus being transmitted amid the public in three of the past four days. All new cases have been found in people already in government-mandated quarantine after returning from abroad.

The government already has banned all international airline flights in or out of the country until June 30 and extended the country’s state of emergency through that date. It earlier granted all foreigners in the country automatic visa extensions until July 31, as they’re unable to leave to renew visas at Thai embassies abroad.

The public and business community had widely assumed the airports would be reopened in July before the visa extension expires, but Yuthasak’s comments suggest Thailand might continue to close itself off from the world, despite having all but eradicated the coronavirus.

Doing so would inflict more substantial damage on the Thai economy, which draws 20% of its gross domestic product from tourism.

“We are not going to open all at once,” the governor continued in the CNN intervew. “We are still on high alert, we just can’t let our guard down yet. We have to look at the (tourist’s) country of origin to see if their situation has truly improved. And lastly, we have to see whether our own business operators are ready to receive tourists under the ‘new normal’.”

Yuthasak said TAT is studying a radical proposal to only allow foreign tourists to visit certain remote areas on long holidays, a move that would deal a body blow to Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket an Chiang Mai, the country’s biggest tourist draws. It also would limit the number of people who would even want to visit.

“We have studied a possibility of offering special long-stay packages in isolated and closed areas where health monitoring can be easily controlled — for example, Koh Phangan and Koh Samui,” he said. “This will be beneficial for both tourists and local residents, since this is almost a kind of quarantine.”

While no tourists are being allowed in currently, rules remain on the books requiring all tourists to enter 14 days of quarantine – ruling out any short-term tourists – and also obtain hard to get “fit to fly” certificates and carry US$100,000 in health insurance. Maintaining those requirements would all but kill tourism to the kingdom.

Tourism experts agree it’s likely that Thailand will form bilaterial agreements with countries that have suppressed the coronavirus, creating “tourism bubbles’ or “tourist corridors” already being set between New Zealand and Australia and Balkan countries in Europe.

Topping the list of “bubble” countries Thailand might open up to first is China, a move that would inspire outrage among the public, which blames the Chinese for the pandemic and still believes they are the biggest carriers of the disease, despite the fact the coronavirus has been quashed on the mainland.

Other bubble countries include South Korea, which is dealing with renewed outbreaks in Seoul, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In the interim, TAT is heavily pushing domestic tourism to save the industry, a push that could be helped next month if the government relaxes controls on interprovincial travel.