Borders reopen amid looming COVID threat . . .
On Tuesday, Thailand opened its borders to fully-vaccinated travellers from all over the world. To encourage a tourism-led economic recovery, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has developed a “Test and Go” model that allows fully-vaccinated travellers with negative COVID test results quarantine-free entry to the country. Thailand’s previous reopening plan began in early November 2021 and allowed entry for travellers from only 63 countries, but was postponed in late December with the Omicron wave. By fast-tracking vaccination and enhancing restrictions on public gatherings and domestic travel, the country has managed to stabilize the spread of Omicron, but the threat of a tourism-induced outbreak remains.
Resurrecting Thai tourism . . .
Before the pandemic, the tourism sector generated over 18 per cent of Thailand’s GDP, and in 2019 alone, the country welcomed nearly 40 million foreign travellers. The Thai government anticipates receiving five million international visitors this year, the majority from Europe and the U.S., and hopes to rebound to pre-pandemic levels by next year. Thailand is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this year, which, under the theme ‘Open. Connect. Balance.’ prioritizes reviving regional connectivity in the tourism sector, among other goals. The summit includes more than 100 meetings, including APEC Tourism Ministerial Meetings, opening a unique window of opportunity for Thailand to showcase its tourism sector. While lobbying efforts by businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries expedited the reopening, Thailand's role in hosting APEC 2022 is another catalyst for boosting tourism.
Hard road to recovery . . .
If Thailand can strike a balance between tourism revival and public health, other Southeast Asian tourism hubs may follow suit, given the Indonesian island of Bali and the Philippines already have their reopening plans in place. However, many Thai citizens remain skeptical about welcoming international travellers so early. Some observers claim that to return to pre-pandemic tourism levels, Chinese travellers, comprising 27 per cent of Thailand’s total visitors in 2019, will need to flock to Thai beaches once again. Considering Beijing’s stringent pandemic policies, it might take another year for Chinese citizens to start travelling again.
- Bloomberg: Thailand set for rush of tourists with quarantine-free visas
- China Daily Global: Thai tourism to benefit from Chinese visitors
- Tourism Authority of Thailand News: Thailand ready to host APEC 2022