Tourism authority says Thailand must prepare for virus cases as part of re-opening

PHOTO: A deserted beach on Koh Samui - The Guardian

The Tourism Authority of Thailand says the country must re-open its borders by the last quarter of the year and prepare to manage new Covid-19 cases as a result. TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn says the impact of new cases can be contained with careful risk management.

The reality of the situation is now sinking in as Thai officials are now openly admitting they can’t keep Thailand completely Covid-free indefinitely.

“We cannot avoid new cases, but the most important thing is to have risk management in place. If there are 5 cases among 5 million tourists, and we can contain those infections with stringent measures, that would be a good balance between public health and business survival.”

Thailand’s borders have been closed since March, and the fallout for the country’s tourism sector has been devastating. Businesses in normally thriving hot-spots like Pattaya, Koh Samui, and Phuket are shuttered, many for good, and thousands of workers are jobless. The fallout has been significant, and Yuthasak says it’s set to get worse the longer the borders remain shut.

“We have to bring in tourists by the last quarter as the domestic market alone cannot keep tourism workers employed. If we keep delaying their entry, around 2.5 million jobs out of 4 million will be at risk.”

Following the discovery of Thailand’s first locally transmitted Covid-19 case in over 3 months, the TAT was forced to downgrade its estimate of 80 million domestic trips in 2020 to 70 million. Domestic tourists are expected to bring in revenue of 418 billion baht, down more than 60% on 2019 figures. Revenue from international visitors is expected to be down 65% compared to 2019.

Yuthasak estimates that hotels need an occupancy rate of 30% to keep going. The rate nationwide is currently at 28%. He says an increase in domestic trips to 100 million in 2021, coupled with a plan to tentatively open to foreign tourists, could increase average hotel occupancy to 50%.

There have been many plans and ideas put forward for a careful re-opening to international tourists, with one example being the “Phuket Model” (that name may change). There is still no confirmation of any being given the green light and a definitive launch date. What’s certain is that any re-opening will involve copious amounts of paperwork, several Covid-19 tests, and 14 days’ quarantine.

The recent locally transmitted case in Bangkok, coupled with the saga of the Covid-positive Egyptian soldier in Rayong, have delayed any potential re-opening. Concerns expressed by some Phuket locals have also given officials pause for thought. Yuthasak says any re-opening must involve careful planning and proper communication with locals to ensure they’re on board.

The Bangkok Post reports that the TAT plans to propose a special long-stay visa, costing around 2,000 baht, that can be extended for a period of up to 270 days. In terms of short-term arrivals who cannot fulfil the 14 days’ quarantine, Yuthasak says the TAT is coordinating with the private sector on appropriate safety protocols. These would form part of a reciprocal pact with selected countries.

Meanwhile, the president of the Thai Hotels Association, Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, says Thailand cannot expect to have zero Covid-19 infections, and must learn to balance virus suppression with re-starting the tourism sector. She says government health officials must reassure the public that quarantine facilities beyond Bangkok will have the same strict standards as those in the capital.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Maya Taylor

A seasoned writer, with a degree in Creative Writing. Over ten years' experience in producing blog and magazine articles, news reports and website content.

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