Tourism reboot in time for the holidays . . .
Thailand opened its borders on Monday to fully vaccinated visitors from more than 60 nations considered low-risk – including Canada, the U.S., and China – without the need to quarantine. The reopening was announced by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last month following the limited success of the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ pilot program launched on July 1st. The program allowed inoculated local and foreign travellers to visit specific destinations under strict COVID-19 protocols and reduced quarantine periods. With several other Southeast Asian nations, like Singapore and Malaysia, contemplating similar moves, the Thai government and the tourism industry are hoping to be the first to capitalize on the upcoming high season.
Economic recovery could come at a price . . .
Despite the possibility of another surge in COVID-19 cases, the reopening of borders can be seen as an important first step for economic recovery in Thailand, where tourism accounted for 20 per cent of GDP, and international visitors topped 40 million before the pandemic. While most countries in the region have abandoned their ‘zero-COVID’ approach favouring a ‘living with COVID strategy,’ many worry that Thailand’s reopening may be premature. Curfews and other restrictions are still in place in much of the country, and vaccination rates remain low and uneven, with only about 40 per cent of the population fully inoculated. But others believe that debt, poverty, and hunger are far greater risks than the coronavirus. Regardless, even if infections are under control, industry experts think it will take years before tourism revenues return to their pre-pandemic levels.
Protesters not losing hope . . .
As planes were about to touch down in newly opened Thailand, protesters took to the streets of Bangkok to reiterate their call for reforms to the monarchy and the government. Far from acceding to their demands, the Prayut administration has arrested and charged a record number of activists under Thailand’s lese-majeste law. While small-scale protests continue almost daily, different groups and generations joined young pro-democracy activists on Sunday in one of the largest rallies in recent months. Many protesters have previously accused the government of mishandling the pandemic. While some acknowledge that Thailand’s reopening may bring financial relief to a battered economy, they believe that political and economic problems will persist without profound changes to the system.