Over the last few weeks, we have discussed various topics in relation to Thailand, Tourism, and when it may reopen fully to international tourism. We have all made predictions ranging from this October to as far out as Songkran 2022. Indeed, I predicted December.
However, the more I listen to TAT, and this government, the more concerned I am becoming. Rumor coming out of Bangkok and surrounding areas is that they hope to have 70% of the population vaccinated by November! TAT continues to push back tourist towns reopening’s from September to October indefinitely with talk only about sealed routes, ASQ hotel facilities, quarantine, and of course sandboxes.
Indeed, just today the government is trying to roll back the promise of the prime minister with phrases like “some of the country” and the PM didn’t mean the whole country. Let's remind ourselves that the PM did say the full reopening of the country to international tourism.
These are scary times if you are in the hospitality business. Hotel operators, restaurants, bars, and travel agents are all getting very nervous. The loss of another high season will spell the end of many operators and the prediction of a million job losses in the hospitality industry may come to fruition. The Thai government seems to not have a grasp of what is at stake, and the ramifications this will have on the Thai Economy and its people for many many years. The tourism authority if Thailand is clearly not fit for purpose anymore, and an overhaul is needed.
In my opinion, the focus for Thai tourism and its future needs to be sustainability coupled with common-sense policies and a focus on the tourist.
Over the last year, I have heard nothing but nonsensical, and childish, unworkable ideas coming out of the TAT. Their focus seems to be sealed routes and chasing the golden goose of more high-end tourists and fewer backpacker types and package holidaymakers. But in a post-pandemic world, this is not a sustainable concept because, and let’s be honest, Thailand is in no position to be picking and choosing who will be visiting these shores. High-end customers may spend more, but this will only benefit the high-end resorts, bars, and restaurants. In other words – the rich. What about the local Thai person who owns a guesthouse, B&B, or hostel, what about the 3- and 4-star hotel operator? There will always be a place in Thailand for the backpacker and this is a good thing. Backpackers really benefit the real local people as they tend to stay in more local areas, eat and drink more locally and try to immerse themselves more in the culture of the country. In my opinion, they benefit the Thai people a lot more than the high-end traveler and all that is a good thing and much needed.
Package holidaymakers are also a necessity. They fill hotels throughout this country and make Thailand affordable for Europeans to travel to. Imagine if TUI (the largest travel agent in the world), decided to cut its Thailand route. This would be devastating for Thailand and spell the end of the “good old days” and the 40 million arrivals.
But the question is now – how the forthcoming high season can be saved and tourism in this country and all done in a safe way. There is one highlight of the Phuket Sandbox model and that is we have learned that fully vaccinated international travelers pose very little threat and danger, if any, to Thailand. As of today, 23,734 travelers have arrived in Phuket under the scheme of which 90 tested positive for COVID. That’s 0.38% of travelers and all, as far as I know, were asymptomatic.
With this in mind and these exceptionally low numbers, it can be safe to assume that reopening to vaccinated travelers can be done safely and in an orderly way. As Thailand is not a COIVD free country and indeed, Phuket is far from COVID-free, we are not putting local people in danger. The greater danger of covid infections is from Thai citizens infecting Thai citizens.
In my humble opinion, and I am sure we will debate this in the comments section down below, the way to open is to require an RT PCR test no older than 72 hours before your flight along with being fully vaccinated. With just those 2 criteria, I believe Thailand can open the doors to international tourism and kickstart the battered economy. No more COE’s, SHA plus hotels and transportation, multiple PCR tests, and expensive insurance hanging over your head. I also believe with knowing what we know, can start ASAP. The Phuket Sandbox has served its purpose and it’s now time to rejoin the rest of the tourism world. And let me tell you we are far far behind them.
Another idea would be to extend the 30 days visa waiver program to 60 days and try encouraging people to spend longer in the Kingdom. Stop trying to make money off these people by making them trek to immigration, line up, photocopy tons of paper and then charge them 1900 THB for a 30-day extension. Just give it to them.
The same applies to the single-entry tourist visa. Many countries issue a 90-day tourist visa but for some reason, Thailand only issues a 60-day tourist visa. Why? Well, it seems to be a money-making racket for Thai immigration. And yes, for an additional 1900 THB, you can get another 30 days extension. Wouldn’t it be in the country's interest in promoting tourism through practical solutions to issue that affect traveler. Finding immigration offices can be difficult depending on where you are, and sometimes it can take half the day depending on what type of officer you get. I’m sure some of you know what I mean,
Thailand also needs to eliminate the dual pricing that takes place. Tourists aren’t stupid – most can read and understand what one price in the Thai language means and the other higher price in English means. And the price difference is normally big. For example, some price differences can be 10-fold at a national park. Or did you know that when you go on an excursion there is a Thai price and a foreign price? These kinds of things do not need to exist and are easily dealt with by legislation. The government needs to act on these kinds of things.
Thailand needs to also learn lessons from this pandemic though it seems Phuket has not. Thailand cannot afford to just rely solely on international travel. It needs to have a broad mix of both international and domestic to survive. Putting all your eggs in one basket has been its downfall though as I said Phuket hasn’t learned the lessons yet – the governor's FU to the rest of the country will come back to haunt him and Phuket.