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Thailand is unlikely to reopen its borders to international tourists before the end of the year – a forecast by a deputy governor of Thailand's Tourism Authority.
Speaking at another webinar, this time hosted by TAT's Deputy Governor of International Marketing, Mekong Tourism and TravelMole, Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, noted that there was "no talk of a timeline issued to reopen the country during weekly Covid-19 national meetings for inbound or outbound leisure travel."
He spoke of the "very, very cautious" approach of the Thai government to reopen borders, and said that he did not expect Thailand to welcome tourists until at least 2021.
"I don't see any sign from the government this year that the country will open. That puts the tourism industry under a lot of pressure. The Christmas season, usually the high season, is in jeopardy and I'm looking horribly even to February's Chinese New Year, which is at best an insane proposition now. This is not, unfortunately, a rosy picture.'
Discussions also stalled over the creation of travel bubbles.
"There was talk over the formation of travel bubbles last month. Because of outbreaks in many of the countries we hoped to get tourists from, including Vietnam, that talk has not continued so far.'
Meanwhile, under strict health measures, the list of groups allowed back to Thailand has been extended from diplomats and UN officials to business people, investors with government agreement, film crews, some migrant workers, exhibition staff and Thailand Elite visa holders.
But conditions are also set on these categories of people that are allowed back into the country, including their country of departure.
Thailand is also opening itself up for medical tourism to select countries.
The Deputy Governor of the TAT also added that plans are being discussed on safe bubbles that can be formed for leisure travel, with a suggestion that all visitors spend at least 30 days in the country. That would be in designated areas – likely islands like Koh Samui or Phuket.
"This isn't moving forward at the moment as the government takes a wait-and-see attitude. They want to see how the existing foreign groups, like film crews and diplomats, do first. There continues to be a lot of nervousness.
With uncertainties surrounding the reopening of borders to international travel, Thai tourism operators are proposing a new inbound tourism plan to replace travel bubbles, called "Safe and Sealed"
During a joint meeting of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the private sector chaired by Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, tourism-related groups proposed to let tourists return to Thailand in Q4. The plan envisages safer, more flexible screening procedures for many countries, compared to the travel bubble scheme.
"Only visitors from cities with a record of zero infections will be selected for at least 30 days, and will only be able to travel and stay in designated hotels and provinces. Other conditions include a 72-hour COVID-free certificate prior to flights, and insurance and swab tests.
The tourism sector used to employ 4 million pre-COVID workers, but with companies having zero revenue over the past 6 months, the sector's unemployment could soon exceed 2.5 million.
Meanwhile, EVA Air today announced it is pushing back its reintroduction of Phuket flights from next month until at least March next year.