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STV Flops; Only 2,000 Foreigners to Use New Tourists Visas by Year-End

CCSA this week to consider shorter quarantine, end of "fit to fly" certificate as Tourism Ministry revives 'travel bubble' for China.

Empty beach chairs span the length of Pattaya Beach Nov. 14, 2020 as the city struggles from a lack of international tourists.
Empty beach chairs span the length of Pattaya Beach Nov. 14, 2020 as the city struggles from a lack of international tourists. (Photo: Bangkok Herald)

Thailand’s highly-touted Special Tourist Visa has flopped and the reintroduction of a general tourist visa won’t bring more than a 1,000 travelers to the kingdom this year, tourism officials admitted.

Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said last week he expects only about 2,000 tourists to take advantage of the STV and single-entry tourist visa by year-end, fear below even the modest numbers allowed to enter Thailand under the STV program.

While the country targeted issuing 1,200 STVs a month, only 331 foreigners arrived in Thailand on them in October and only about 1,000 total applications are pending, he said.

Tourism Authority of Thailand Deputy Gov. Thapanee Kiatphaibool said the largest group of foreigners applying for Certificates of Entry to enter Thailand remain retirees on Non-Immigrant O-A visas.

In October, 501 foreigners over the age of 55 returned to Thailand on retirement visas. Special Tourist Visa holders comprised the second-largest group, followed by Elite Card holders (296), Non-Immigrant B work visas (113), single-entry tourist visas (86), APEC Card holders (86),

That’s a total 1,413 tourists in October. In the same month in 2019 Thailand welcomed more than 3 million visitors.

Thapanee said 1,000 travelers have requested to visit Thailand via various visas, especially tourists from Scandinavia. For example, 163 tourists from four Nordic countries mostly applied for retirement and single-entry tourist visas.

She said, to date, 900 Elite Card holders have applied to return to Thailand using visas lasting five to 20 years but only 200 have been let in.

The single-entry tourist visa, which as before allows for stays of 60 days extendable by 30 days in-country for a 1,900-baht fee, has been widely criticized for its steep financial requirement that applicants prove they have the equivalent of 500,000 baht in savings, investments, shares, company accounts under their control, Thai banks accounts or property under their control for the past six months.

The provision has been largely misunderstood and misreported as having a half-million baht cash in a bank account. And, as we predicted last week there are signs the requirement already is being rescinded, as it was for the Special Tourist Visa, with at least one embassy already removing it from their website.

But the failure of either visa to revive tourism is less about the savings requirement than it is about other conditions, especially the need to hold US$100,000 baht in coronavirus insurance and the mandatory 14-day quarantine at the traveler’s expense.

And, even those aside, the worldwide recession caused by the pandemic has suppressed global tourism with people unable to afford a Thai holiday.

Thapanee said Thai officials are making efforts to lower the bar for tourists to return to Thailand. TAT, for example is pushing for the elimination of the difficult-to-get “fit to fly” certificate, which is redundant anyway given that a negative Covid-19 test is required within 72 hours of flying.

The Public Health Ministry, meanwhile, is hoping the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration this week will approve its proposal to shorten quarantine for tourists from “low-risk” countries to 10 days, from the current 14.

Kiatiphum Wongrajit, the ministry’s permanent secretary, last week said eight months of operating state quarantine centers have shown that the overwhelming majority of Covid-19 cases emerge in the first 10 days.

He predicted that if quarantine was shortened for low-risk countries, including China, 10 million Chinese tourists would arrive next year. Of those, only about 100 of them – two a week – would likely develop Covid-19 after leaving quarantine.

Kiatiphum said Thailand is more than capable of handling two new cases a week, but if more emerge, then the shorter quarantine would be re-evaluated. Conversely, the permanent secretary said, if fewer than two cases emerge, then quantile could be cut to just seven days.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry wants to go farther, and simply create a “travel bubble” with 22 Chinese provinces that would dispense with quarantine altogether.

Travel bubbles were all the rage in June and July. But the world’s summer surge in coronavirus cases popped bubble hopes. But now, increasingly desperate to jump-start the economy and tourism industry, Thai officials are looking again to their golden goose – China – to see if there is interest in a Bubble 2.0.

Tourism Minister Pipat said he is prepared to coordinate with China’s embassy to create a bubble that would cover 22 provinces and 800 million people on the mainland where Covid-19 has been dormant for more than 150 days.

He believes Thailand is prepared to handle any coronavirus cases that may emerge and the benefit of reopening to some tourists outweighs any public-health risk. He said he’d like to see the Cabinet approve the measure by year-end as a “new year’s gift” to Thais.