Hopes that the latest long-term visa plan will allow general tourists into the country on a grand scale have been dashed by the Tourism and Sports minister Phipat Ratchakitprakarn. He clarified that Thai embassies abroad will only issue the special visa and a certificate of eligibility to foreigners who are travelling either by charter plane or by private jet.
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It had been assumed by many – wrongly as it has turned out – that the new Special Tourist Visa (STV), which allows a stay of between three and nine months, could be used by entrants to slip into the country on a repatriation flight. Ordinary scheduled flights are still banned from entering Thailand.
Another hope was that foreigners already in Thailand, who have benefitted from the six months’ visa amnesty ending on September 26, might be able to apply to local immigration here for the STV as an option to extend their stay yet again. This will not be possible as the visa can be issued only by Thai embassies abroad.
During the first stage of reopening next month, charter flights will be limited to three flights a week with a maximum of 100 passengers on board each plane, presumably to observe some form of physical distancing. Even allowing for increased capacity in a later phase, the entire plan will do nothing to rebound the moribund tourist industry in Thai resorts.
The reference to also allowing private jets illustrates that the government at this stage is not remotely intending to return to the days of mass tourism, but to concentrate on “top quality” visitors which means “super rich” in this context. But they will all still need to provide payment for 14 days quarantine, US$100,000 medical insurance, health and Covid-19 certification and proof of a booking on a charter flight or private jet.
Geoffrey Fletcher, spokesperson at the Association of British Travel Agents, said, “There will be near-zero interest in this proposal in traditional Thai tourist markets such as Europe and America.” He predicted that there will be some interest amongst rich individuals in parts of short-haul Asia – including China, Singapore and South Korea – who have been lobbying the Thai government to exempt them from the tourist ban. They would likely spend their 14 days quarantine being pampered in Bangkok’s most luxurious hotels.
Recently, Thai authorities have been silent about other tentative plans to reopen general tourism such as the Snowbirds from northern Europe or the special travel bubbles to Phuket. For the foreseeable future, the emphasis will be on the very wealthy who will spend their mega-cash in the most expensive facilities Thailand can provide. If the owners of bars, cafes, transvestite cabaret shows and massage parlours of the land think their empty seats will soon refill, they’d better think it out again.