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Thailand Ready to Form ‘Travel Bubbles’ at June 26 ASEAN Meeting

China, Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand top list of likely bilateral tourism partners

Chinese Tourists Thailand Bangkok

In two weeks, Thailand may finally answer the question of when it will reopen its international borders and which country lucky tourists can arrive from.

The government’s Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration Friday approved in principal the idea of bilateral “travel bubble” agreements to allow reciprocal tourism. Instead of throwing its doors open to everyone, Thailand appears likely to allow visitors only from countries which have subdued the coronavirus as successfully as the kingdom has.

Such agreements are to be discussed at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting to be held via video conference June 26.

The leading candidates at this point are China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and New Zealand. Japan and Australia also are in the running as are other ASEAN members There’s no consideration of allowing American or European visitors into Thailand at this point.

“The target group is business travelers as well as those wanting medical services and treatment in Thailand,” a CCSA spokesman told the media Friday.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told the media Friday that each country would set their own health conditions for arriving visitors.

One of the first travel bubbles in Asia – between South Korea and certain Chinese cities – was launched for business travelers on May 1. Arriving executives and public officials are required to pass coronavirus tests before departure and on arrival and undergo a short quarantine.

Other travel bubbles, such as one proposed between New Zealand and Australia, have taken longer to finalize due to disagreements over health restrictions. The nature of bilateral agreements normally requires each side impose the same rules.

Thailand’s current requirements for arriving passengers is both excessive and unsustainable. Passengers are required to obtain difficult-to-get “fit to fly” certificates, pass a coronavirus test within 72 hours of flying and, most dauntingly, show proof they have US$100,000 in health insurance that covers Covid-19.

Maintaining those requirements likely would be a non-starter for potential bubble partners, as it would effectively kill significant tourism.