The schedule was publicly posted on the AoT Phuket Facebook page on Jan 3, one week after Beijing confirmed downgrading COVID-19 and softening travel restrictions which is expected to take effect from Jan 8 and include abolishing mandatory quarantine for people coming to China from abroad.
“Part 6. Inbound and outbound tourism. According to the international epidemic situation and various service guarantee capabilities, and in line with the principle of pilot first, the outbound travel of Chinese citizens will be resumed in an orderly manner,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a notice posted on Dec 27.
These changes are yet to be reflected in the Phuket International Airport flight schedule which still does not have a single flight from Mainland China.
In January 2023 Phuket International Airport is expected to service 7,004 domestic and international flights compared to 6,730 in November (this includes both arrivals and departures).
The number of international flights stands at 3,280 while the domestic market should provide 3,724 (for arrivals, divide by two*).
To put it into perspective, in December the numbers were 3,000 and 3760 respectively. Thus international flights are expected to increase by 9%, while domestic ones are expected to decline by less than 1%.
The two new airlines among 40 to perform international flights to and from Phuket in January are Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong) and Uzbekistan Airways (Uzbekistan). The list of six carriers servicing domestic routes remains unchanged. For a full schedule, click here.
China’s decision to scrap quarantine requirements for people entering the country is expected to open the floodgates for travel abroad by millions of Chinese residents. Yet it is not known when this can happen.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand forecasts 300,000 Chinese arrivals in the first quarter this year, starting with 60,000 visitors in January. Yet as of Jan 6 there was simply no flight supply to serve any significant demand.
Just before New Year, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob said that airlines had been expected to file requests for flights to and from China with the Airports of Thailand (AoT) before the holidays. It is not clear how many (if any) requests had been actually filed.
Minister Saksayam named Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket as top destinations for Chinese regular and charter flights saying the latter can be expected during the Chinese New Year.
Suttipong Kongpool, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT), said earlier this week that the first scheduled flight from China would arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport on Jan 12. In the first three months of this year 15 Chinese airlines would operate 15 flights a day to Suvarnabhumi, Chiang Mai and Phuket airports, he added.
Passenger flights between Thailand and China saw a fivefold increase in September 2022. But as the initial number was three flights per week, the increase resulted in only 15 flights weekly.
Pinyot Pibulsonggram, director of commercial sales for Thai VietJet, said this week that his airline only was cooperating with Chinese travel agents to conduct feasibility studies on potential routes and new cities in China.
Mr Pinyot also named Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai as three key “cities” of interest for Chinese.
Thai VietJet operates two flights a week from Thailand to Nanjing and Kunming. Prior to the pandemic, Thai VietJet chartered flights connecting 20 cities in the mainland, totalling 4-5 daily flights.
Curbs under consideration
As CIMB economist Song Seng Wun said to Reuters agency, whenever China reopens its borders, the newly mobile Chinese tourists will opt for "minimal hassle" and head for destinations that do not demand to test on arrivals.
As of Jan 6 Thailand did not require COVID testing from visitors, yet Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul yesterday (Jan 5) told reporters that the Kingdom was about to start asking for vaccination proof from all visitors and insurance from those travelling onward from Thailand to a country that requires a negative RT-PCR test. This should include China and Chinese returning home from Thailand.
The barriers will be universal, Mr Anutin said. The proof of vaccination requirement will apply to all arrivals without any exceptions as Thailand doesn’t want to discriminate against any specific nation.
“The principle is there will not be any discrimination against a particular country because COVID-19 is spreading in all countries and the strains are similar,” Mr Anutins said, explaining why China is not specific and restrictions should also apply to tourists from elsewhere.
“So, COVID-19 should not be an issue of discriminating against any country,” he repeated.