Unlike previous editions of introducing “eased” entry measures when government officials have highly promoted how effective the reduced restrictions have been in boosting the number of tourists coming to Phuket, as of Tuesday (April 5) local officials still had yet to make the usual proclamations of success.
Under the new requirements, the Thai government no longer requires tourists to be tested for COVID-19 by RT-PCR method, the mandatory COVID insurance has been reduced from US$50,000 to US$20,000 and the mandatory test on Day 5 of a tourist’s stay ‒ under the Test & Go scheme and the Sandbox entry scheme ‒ can now be conducted with an antigen test kit (ATK) instead of RT-PCR method.
However, all other requirements remain the same, including the widely criticised Thailand Pass application system for international arrivals to be issued a certificate of entry. Also in effect are mandatory quarantine measures for arrivals deemed to be high risk contacts, who are not actually infected.
Since the April 1 measures came into effect, the number of international arrivals has increased, but only to about 3,400 a day, a long way from helping tourism officials reach their touted goal of 10 million international tourists this year heralded only one month ago.
The month of March saw the already small number of daily arrivals plunge even further following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, with the number of new arrivals hovering in the low 3,000s sinking to an average of just over 1,000 each day.
While the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) continues to promote that more than 430,000 tourists have arrived under COVID entry schemes since Nov 1 last year, the number of arrivals to Phuket has never exceeded more than 4,054 on any one day.
Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, sensing the impact was coming, late last month recognised that tourism officials had previously forecast 10mn arrivals this year, but noted in an interview that with the surge in Omicron infections and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the tally might only reach 7mn.
Tourism revenue could reach 30% of levels recorded in 2019 this year, before improving to 50% next year and fully recovering by 2024, he said.
TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn iearly last month announced that the tourism revenue target this year was B1.28 trillion, of which B626 billion was to come from 10mn international tourists. Another B656bn was to come from 160mn domestic trips.
By mid-march Mr Yuthasak admitted that the forecasts “might need” revising, but that would not happen until the end of March. As of yesterday (Apr 5), no revised forecasts had been announced.
‘Before it is too late’
Bill Heinecke, founder and chairman of Minor International (MINT), which operates over 75,000 rooms across more than 520 hotels, resorts and serviced suites among its portfolio of hospitality, restaurants and lifestyle brands, has urged that the government must drop all COVID travel restrictions before the tentative date of June 1 to rescue the economy “before it is too late”.
“The removal of Thailand Pass under the Test and Go scheme on June 1 is too late. We believe lifting all travel restrictions should be done immediately as the rest of the world is already opening up,” said Mr Heinecke on Monday (Apr 4), reported the Bangkok Post.
Many people want to visit the country during Songkran and Easter, but too many restrictions deter tourists, he said.
Thailand is suffering as the government has shattered tourism opportunities, causing many hotels to start laying off workers again after seeing inflation increase, Mr Heinecke continued.
“I hope the public health minister and prime minister will look carefully at this issue and make the right decision to help the economy before we die,” he said.
Without travel rules, Thai tourism will bounce back within a year, even without the Chinese market, as seen in the Maldives, which has already surpassed pre-pandemic levels, explained Mr Heinecke.
Saudi Arabia, which restored relations with Thailand after a 32-year break, is a quality market with high spending the sector can target, he added.
The wellness segment has high potential to attract tourists from Europe and the Americas, which are the main feeder markets for Thai tourism at the moment, said Mr Heinecke.