After months of pondering when some tourists might actually come back through the turnstiles, the Thai Immigration Bureau says they’re dusting off the finger-print ID and cameras at arrival booths in Bangkok in preparation for the first wave of ‘general’ tourism back to Thailand. But the projected flow of around 1,200 incoming passengers under the new Special Tourist Visa will still fall a long way short of the 3 million monthly arrivals from last year.
On Tuesday the Cabinet approved, in principal, to allow a new Special Tourist Visa. The new visa, which comes into operation as soon as next month, allows tourists to arrive for a minimum of 90 days, then able to extend 2 more times for 90 days each, nearly 9 months in total. The major ‘stumbling block’ remains in place – the mandatory state 14 day quarantine – which many potential tourists say they are simply not prepared to tolerate.
Speaking after the Cabinet decision, the Thai PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, said that the move was an important first step to reopen the country to tourism. Speaking on the matter, the Department of Disease Control says that “reopening the country to foreign visitors will not raise the risks of local Covid-19 transmission from imported infections”.
Another impediment to the success of the new STV was revealed after the Tourism Authority of Thailand deputy governor Thapanee Kiatphaibool said that the tourists would have to travel on chartered flights from overseas directly to their destinations in Thailand. The cost and infrequent nature of these flights would add a further barrier to the success of the visa.
The TAT predicts 1,200 tourists would visit Thailand each month under the STV program and acknowledged that they would be in the higher income groups due to the additional expenses involved in the flights, paperwork and state quarantine, most likely at a registered hotel, at the traveller’s expense.
A handful of scheduled flights, in and out of Thailand, mostly either as a transit or dropping off cargo, provide few options for a return to general tourism at this stage which is forcing the government to work with overseas embassies to organise charter flights for the STV program.
The deputy director-general of the DDC, Tanarak Plipat, foreshadowed that the new tourist arrivals would likely not bring in Covid-19 infections, “since the visitors would be subject to a stay at state quarantine facilities for 14 days”.
Over the past 4 months almost all the new infections in Thailand have been returnees testing positive whilst in state quarantine. But in the past 2 weeks there has been 2 local infections – a DJ who was in quarantine at a corrections facility and a Uzbek football player from the Buriram United football team.
Just yesterday it was also reported that a 2 year old Burmese boy tested positive after returning from Thailand. Dr Tanarak says the DDC were investigating the case but “no special measures had been imposed in Ayutthaya province where the boy had stayed before returning to Myanmar”.