Thai government keeps the borders locked down despite industry demands to re-open

Despite progress in vaccines and the hard lobbying from Thailand’s tourism and hospitality industries, the Kingdom is destined to miss out on the 2019/2021 high season. The Thai Minster for Sports and Tourism, Pipat Ratchakitprakan, says that the government is looking to March/April in 2021 as the earliest date for any return to general tourism.

For now travellers still have to go through a long list of Thai red tape, certificates and trying to find flights into Thailand. And when they arrive, all travellers will face 14 days in quarantine, at their own expense. Even the new Special Tourist Visa hasn’t been very special at all with only a handful of takers for the long-stay visa.

Thailand’s hotel operators and tourism industry players were hoping for a broader re-opening plan so they could make the best of the traditional high season, usually late November to the end of February each year. That isn’t going to happen now.

With many of the country’s traditional feeder markets having to weather a current surge in cases, except China, there wouldn’t be many takers anyway. Even the Chinese are mostly prohibited from travelling for now.

A drag in the plans to re-open the borders is likely to push more Thai and foreign-owned tourism and hospitality businesses to the wall, unable to ‘hang on’ for another 4 months, or longer.

The Thai Hotel Association and The Thailand Travel Agents Association have been lobbying, even demanding, the Thai government to drop its mandatory quarantine provisions and urgently negotiate travel bubble with provinces in China and other nations that are currently “low risk” for Covid-19, including Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

Andrew J Wood, the President of Skål International Bangkok, says that it’s becoming increasingly evident that the damage being inflicted to Thailand’s massive travel and tourism industry is proving to be critical with “deep long lasting structural economic damage that is set to worsen rather than improve”.

“With the current official mindset of allowing the industry, that employs millions in Thailand, to be sacrificed; thrown to the covid wolf with no meaningful financial lifelines, left to fend for itself and potentially fail. With no hope of borders being opened by mid 2021, even with the introduction of vaccines in key feeder markets, there is confusion and a leadership vacuum in our industry.”

But Minister Pipat says everything is on hold at this stage and that the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is urging caution in regards to any wholesale easing of restrictions.

“The country will continue with opening to businessmen, technical experts, high level workers and those in the medical field for now. 14 day quarantine will continue for now with many countries still in the grip of the pandemic.”

He also noted that even Chinese officials are advising caution and suggest waiting until the hot season next year (mid year). There were small outbreaks in 3 cities in China in the middle of November, less than 10 cases in each city, where Chinese health officials rolled out quick-response lockdown teams for the affected communities.

But Andrew Wood makes it clear that any entry to Thailand by tourists involves 14 day quarantine is destined to fail.

“I am sure I am not the only person to say this, but let me say loudly and clearly that tourism promotions with 2 weeks quarantine WILL FAIL. Now vaccines are starting to be introduce lets look at other low risk options for borders to be gradually opened. I plead to the government to allow this. Otherwise the structural damage to our tourism economy will take us until 2025 to repair.”

“A recent survey suggested that 57% of global tourism will have been wiped out by the pandemic by the end of 2020. In Thailand this figure will be nearer to 80% and highlighted Bangkok as the destination which will see the sharpest drop in the world. Thailand will lose 2.1 trillion baht (US$69.7billion) in income before the end of the year in lost tourism revenue.”

The Minister, indeed the Thai government and the CCSA, appear to be bowing to survey after survey which shows Thai people, around the country, are in favour of keeping the borders closed for now, despite the country’s tourism and hospitality industry being decimated by the government’s policies.

The recent spate of cases in northern Thailand, currently an evolving story, will give the risk-averse Thai government increased impetus to keep a tight control on its borders in the short to medium term.

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