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Thailand’s 3rd wave wreaks havoc on the Tourism Restart Plan – where are we now?



PHOTO: Empty beaches of Hua Hin - AJ Wood

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

Thailand Ministers ponder the next steps to re-start it’s massive tourism industry, initially set for July 1, 2021 in Phuket. The plan may need to be overhauled as Phuket struggles to immunise the whole island in the wake of the third wave of hotspots. Phuket, prior to the third wave had already secured more than 100,000 doses and planned to receive an additional 930,000 doses by June.

This would be enough for 70% of the population – the target needed to achieve herd immunity. The spike in Covid-19 cases has interrupted this plan, as vaccines must also be allocated to other provinces urgently to help fight the latest outbreaks. 

Not deterred, the Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said he plans to meet next week with all relevant agencies to discuss the reopening plan, previously set for July this year. Eighteen provinces have now been declared red zones, with a partial lockdown and stay at home order. The alert warning was also raised across the rest of the country to orange, in all the remaining 59 provinces many of which had previously been green and considered safe.

Deciding to ignore expert warnings, the government allowed the Songkran holidays to go ahead, even adding an extra day. However no mass gatherings or water splashing were allowed.

(Songkran is the Thai New Year celebration which typically lasts 3-4 days, leading to a mass exodus of cities like Bangkok). 

Last year, due to Covid-19, the holiday was cancelled. As a result of the holiday this year, a few outbreaks in Bangkok allowed the virus to spread widely. The Bangkok outbreaks centred on entertainment places; restaurant-pubs and nightclubs around the Thonglor area, plus a high-society wedding at a new riverside hotel, whose guest list included a number of government Ministers and prominent business leaders.

The Covid virus from these few hotspots were quickly spread throughout the whole country, as people returned to their homes for the holidays. Unfortunately this was a perfect storm for spreading the virus. Up until this point, since the beginning of the pandemic, Thailand had only recorded 28,889 cases and 94 deaths as at April 1, 2021. Eighteen days later this has risen to 43,742 cases and 104 deaths. An increase in cases of 51%. 

During my recent visit to Hua Hin, empty beaches were very much in evidence already with the third wave leading to mass cancellations. Some resorts, previously 70-80% occupied, saw domestic arrivals decimated. Already hurting from a lack of international visitors, this latest outbreak was a most unwelcome guest. 

The question of re-opening Thailand to Tourism, starting with Phuket, has obviously taken a knock backwards.

“The key determinant is insufficient vaccines, we are concerned about the re-opening timeline. We still need to discuss the vaccine administration plan. If the herd immunity goal cannot be achieved, we may have to consider opening only certain areas in Phuket”.

However, to continue with the same plan, even with restricted zones, will not be easy as long as the country still has increasing new daily infections, said Minister Pipat.

“Most importantly, we still have to hear from other countries that we already started travel bubble negotiations with about their confidence regarding the same timeline.”

Like Hua Hin, hotels in the North reported cancellations of more than 70% with Chiang Mai a cause for concern and currently experiencing increased coronavirus cases. Prior to the pandemic, the province was a popular destination to celebrate Thai New Year.

Regrettably Minister Pipat is in self-quarantine after being in close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19. The Minster fortunately has already received his first vaccination jab last month (AstraZeneca) and will remain in isolation until next week when all tests are complete (3 swab tests). 


Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

The content of this article reflects the writer and does not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of The Thaiger.


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  1. Jason

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    Today, Australia and New Zealand openned the first quarantine free travel agreement since the pandemic began. It’s a sign of hope! I hope that Phuket can ready itself, so that travellers who would love to come there, can do so without restriction.

  2. John Magee

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 6:33 pm

    ““The key determinant is insufficient vaccines, we are concerned about the re-opening timeline. We still need to discuss the vaccine administration plan. If the herd immunity goal cannot be achieved, we may have to consider opening ONLY CERTAIN AREAS in Phuket. :)))

  3. toby andrews

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 8:35 pm

    Too late Thailand. Europe is opening up to tourists from many countries without quarantine.
    The reason many western countries have vaccinated, and Thailand has not.
    UK, May the 17th. Greece, France, Portugal, Spain, Poland and many more will be opening in May. The USA are also invited.
    Thailand, where many cannot even obtain a test, and most cannot be vaccinated, will have lost the western, high paying tourists this year.
    So holding back vaccines and tests so that the private hospitals could sell them, will no doubt make some Thais rich, but most citizens poor.
    It could not happen to a more deserving country.

  4. Simon Small

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    “Europe is opening up to tourists from many countries without quarantine.”


    “The reason many western countries have vaccinated, and Thailand has not.”

    That wasn’t an option for Thailand, just as it wasn’t for most of the world, as ten countries have administered over 75% of all the available vaccines.

    The EU alone has bought more doses than the rest of the world – enough to vaccinate everyone in the EU twice, with half a billion doses left over.

    If that makes you happy, up to you.

    … and FWIW the “high paying tourists” are not “western”.
    Whether it’s per head, per day or per holiday, Westerners are amongst the lowest spenders in Thailand.

  5. Leo Z

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 10:01 pm

    @Toby, agreed. In all the countries you mentioned, the tests are free, and so are the vaccines.

    Thailand for over half a year has operated under the impression that foreigners cannot wait to get back to Thailand, no matter what. Get back to a country where you have to jump hoops AND pay 4,000-6,000 baht for a test, and where the vaccination rate is much lower than Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s(!).

    At this point, if one is not already fully vaccinated AND doesn’t have a job in Thailand, there’s very little reason to go there. And the Chinese certainly don’t fit the bill either, as on return they have to do 14 days quarantine in hotel, plus 7 days at home.

    I don’t agree with your last sentence, the Thai people deserve better. But that’s for another discussion.

  6. EdwardV

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    The draw of a mostly tourist free Europe will be tough counter to a Phuket in the wet season. That is of course if they can even open Phuket by the fall.

  7. Sylvia L.

    Monday, April 19, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    It is indeed scandalous that no vaccines are made available for the ordinary people of Thailand … how on earth an they ever expect tourists to come here while the country has the worst record in Asia for vaccinations …. the gov could and should buy the vaccine from wherever and could vacciate the entire country and thus save the economy … the money is there ! It would only cost approx 500,000 million dollars and that would be peanuts for those who have $ billions in their accounts ….

  8. Sarah

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 1:07 am

    It hurts me to say this but Thailand is in serious trouble and it’s the Thai people who unfortunately will suffer. It’s only going to get worse my heart bleeds but you can see what’s happening. Thailand is finished now for maybe 2 years with tourism

  9. Look ni

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 1:10 am

    “The key determinant is insufficient vaccines”

    It isn’t. The key determinant is varieties of lockdown. Ministers gathering at top hotels, songjran festivities, mosques and idil fitri – these are all extremely foolish events to allow.

    As to vaccines, whose is the government that supposedly vaccinates the vulnerable where in fact the police, armed forces and admin are second after the government; the rest can get the jab for for 2,ooob in private hospitals, the young take the virus back to their grandparents in the villages ?

    Certain families could use their gains to finance a proper recovery. Reap the benefits in a power economy takeoff. Or of course, reap the whirlwind.

  10. New name

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 1:53 am

    I think in a few months Thailand will open up, and virus headlines disappear. The problem will just go away. All this vaccination talk will go away and we will be talking about how khoasan road is busy again. And hotels are sold out. Real estate prices booming.. You’ll see what they have planned. It’s coming.

  11. Mr cynic

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 3:39 am

    How does anybody think all these tourists desperate to get to thailand if they really exist are going to get here?the majority of the world’s long range passenger aircraft outside of the usa and china have been placed in longterm storage or decommissioned and many of the crews who used to operate them have either been early retired or are no longer able to fly the aircraft they used to without lengthy and expensive training to regain currency and get the type rating back on their can not all be done in a simulator and there are not that many approved simulators available for such aircraft worldwide can not just kick the tyres,light the fires and put the things back in the sky again.long haul flights will be very infrequent compared to 2019 levels of traffic due to the above bottleneck and many other reasons.they are also likely to be extremely expensive.
    Every so often very senior bods from some of the world’s major carriers give an update on the situation.most of them seem to think it will take until 2025 minimum for traffic to be back to 2019 levels at best for long haul.only the very determined will arrive from the traditional thai markets.having witnessed several dramatic tourist declines from the west to thailand
    In the past i noticed the most resilient tourists seem to be the two week millionaires/sex tourist type and the backpackers.
    If tat want westerners to return to thailand it is probably best they concentrate on attracting sex tourists to the realm as they are the most likely to stump up for the expensive airfare and actually cum.
    Perhaps a more sensible option would be to concentrate on regional countries such as china and india when/if things ever settle down again.

  12. Jack Sombra

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 5:51 am

    @Jason, the Aus/NZ is not the first travel bubble by a long shot, have been many more over around the world during the last year, all ‘popped’, most in days/weeks. Aus/NZ was the first talked about though, over a year ago. So either a year to set up and/or popped in a tiny fraction of that time. Ie travel bubbles are stupid unworkable nonsense that really wish Aus and NZ never mentioned in first place.

    @Simon, While there was no way Thailand could match the rich countrys (though by way gov was talking at end of last year, start of this one they thought they could ) to be 126th out 160 odd countrys is beyond abysmal. And now really starting to wonder about the locally produced vaccine, so far in last 7 days ‘delivery’ went from July, to May, to June, back to July and whole facility is still a total no go area, highly unusual for Thai gov to hide something thats running even remotely on schedule, so makes one ask what are they hiding?

  13. EdwardV

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 6:00 am

    concentrating on Chinese and Indians is problematic for now. There is little reason to believe the Chinese will want to travel in large numbers since they are probably the most risk adverse tourists out there. It’s also highly unlikely the Chinese government will let them return without a quarantine (if they let them come at all). Keep in mind they and the Indians have low vaccination rates. The Indians are in the middle of a huge outbreak and it will take months to subside. They are probably out of the game until next year.

  14. Ben

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 6:46 am

    Thailand, not being a rich western country, is at a disadvantage in obtaining vaccines and are now at the back of the line. They also don’t have the brain power and resources to produce vaccines themselves. The reopening plan is still intact. The timing is not because the Phuket population won’t be 70% vaccinated by July 1st. It could be August 1st or September 1st or October 1st or November 1st. Only time will tell. Swing and a miss – strike one.

    Politically they tied themselves to the Chinese wagon and that wagon produced Sinovac which isn’t a very good vaccine. Swing and a miss – strike two.

    Early in the pandemic, about a year ago, they could have been visionary and opened up their checkbook and secured the vaccines. To get to the front of the line they would need to be early and willing to pay a premium in an uncertain environment. Israel is an example of a country that did it and now they’re enjoying the fruits of their successful wager. It would have been costly ($10+ billion) but in hindsight worth it. Swing and a miss – strike three.

    Would it have been too much to expect Thailand to be this visionary under the circumstances?

    -They didn’t have a large amount of infections
    -They weren’t sure vaccines were going to work and wanted to see proof before payment
    -They saw the purpose of the vaccine as protecting their people and didn’t understand it would heal their economy faster too
    -They wanted to spend money on a submarine or two

    I’ve heard more than a few people in Thailand says they want economic success like Singapore. Singapore has administered enough doses to inoculate 14.6% of their population. Thailand has inoculated something like 1% so far. Did someone in the Thai government consult with someone in the Singaporean government on what they were doing?

  15. Doug

    Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 2:33 pm

    Out of control. We only can hope for the best in the coming days and weeks. Before we did not know anyone close to us with Covid. Now its happening and getting really closer. A friend of a friend or family etc. got it +++ Agree that greed plays a major role in this and why we dont have enough vaccination. Where is the Johnson vaccine order ? When does the local Astra Zeneca production start etc. etc.

  16. Sai Yuan George

    Sunday, April 25, 2021 at 2:14 am

    @Simon Small – Hi Simon. Westerners are not low spenders. Actually within the top 5 spenders in Thailand are 3 Western Origins.
    All the best

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