As the vaccination programme in Thailand trudges along, lagging Western countries and regional peers, outbound tour operators see an opportunity to resume their outbound service for the first time in more than a year, said Anake Srishevachart, president at Unithai Travel Co.
Mr Anake said since the company introduced a draft for a customised vaccination tour to the US, it received strong feedback from customers, particularly loyal customers who have both high purchasing power and spare time.
Prior to the pandemic, the Thai outbound market spanned all three segments: low, middle and high end. However, the economic stagnancy of the past year means wealthy customers remain the only realistic target.
This type of vaccination tour carries a hefty price tag, exceeding a general tour programme, he said.
Mr Anake, who is also adviser to the Thai Travel Agents Association, said the minimum cost of the tour is B140,000-150,000, excluding air tickets.
In addition to the costly long-haul airfare, customers would have to wait for weeks at their destination to receive two doses of their chosen vaccine, then spend at least B30,000 per person on a two-week alternative state quarantine on returning to Thailand.
Potential tourists must have at least a month available to conduct the whole trip, making it impossible for most people who work on a daily basis.
“Most of the customers who intend to join these tours don’t want to wait for 3-5 months to get jabs in Thailand,” he said.
“They have healthy savings and are confident in the vaccines excluded from Thai government procurement, such as Moderna. Even if the government procures Pfizer for later delivery, they don’t want to wait.”
Rachphol Yamsaeng, general manager at Unithai Travel, said although there have been a large number of inquiries, 70-80% of them did not have a valid visa for the US.
This makes it extremely unlikely they could join such a tour because it would be difficult to obtain a new tourist visa in a timely manner, said Mr Rachphol.
However, a few private trips for 3-4 people have been arranged, with the company escorting participants to the US to get COVID-19 vaccines.
Another private group is scheduled to leave Bangkok today.
Among those who opted to join a tour, participants signalled a preference for faster immunity as some countries have already loosened travel restrictions for vaccine tourists. South Korea said it would exempt the 14-day quarantine period for vaccinated visitors.
“There is tremendous pent-up demand for outbound travel. Those willing to pay for a vaccination trip are also those eager to explore other destinations when more countries start opening up for inoculated tourists in the near future,” he said.
However, to conduct such a tour, the operator must confirm the vaccine booking has been made before allowing tourists onto the aircraft.