Pattaya should join emergency tourism proposal

Masked tourists are anxious to get back into the water.

There have been several proposals in Thai government circles to allow some foreign tourists back into Thailand in the last three months of 2020. One was to allow really rich travellers in private jets to land at U-Tapao airport, near Rayong, to have the time of their lives on Jomtien’s pristine beaches. But nothing more has been heard of this idea, perhaps because it does rather smack of unashamed elitism. Nor is it obvious that multi-billionaires would be rushing on arrival to the Walking Street for a discounted beer or to an all-you-can-eat buffet for 299 baht.

Another was the much-vaunted travel bubble which is handicapped by the worry that nobody quite knows what it is. Latvia has one with her Baltic neighbors, but that’s not about tourism. New Zealand talked about one but then got cold feet after a renewed coronavirus outbreak. An opposition spokesperson in Belarus suggested yesterday that the president over there might be requiring a bubble exit soon after the disputed election. Anyway, Thailand hasn’t yet got involved with any countries about travel corridors or green zones, so best to forget about them just now.

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And then there’s the Elite long-term visa card which is now on the list of categories to be eligible for an all-important certificate of entry from your local Thai embassy abroad. However, final approval is still pending in several government committees. The point about the Elite card is that it is a 5-20 year multiple-entry visa which, according to recent advertisements, can be used for retiree expats as well as business people. It is likely to prove to be a priority loophole for wannabe entrants to Thailand in a hurry. But not yet.

That leaves us with Safe and Sealed, a proposal by the tourism ministry to open parts of the country to tourists from low-risk cities or districts abroad which have been coronavirus-free for the past 30 days. The details are still hazy – some reports say the tourists must strictly quarantine here while others suggest swabs galore and a tracking wrist band might be sufficient – but the minister has already mooted 1-2 kilometers of specially reserved beach in chosen resorts. The final say will rest with the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) which has already made a preliminary visit to Phuket to assess readiness.

To date, we have heard next to nothing about Pattaya being allowed to participate in the provisionally-estimated 500,000 tourists to arrive in Thailand during the last quarter of the year. It is usually supposed that Thai islands (Phuket or Phi Phi or Kho Samui) will be chosen for participation for ease of monitoring strangers, whilst Pattaya’s many entrances and exits make the wandering lust by tourists impossible to control. But it’s not easy to sustain that argument as Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, which are not islands under any definition, are teaming up as a northern hub under Safe and Sealed.

There is no city in Thailand with as much experience of handling mass tourism than Pattaya. The authorities know all about package tourists staying in nominated hotels, boarding their bus on time and keeping together as a group. If Safe and Sealed does get off the ground this year, Pattaya needs to participate to save something from the current train-wreck of international tourism. Waiting for a vaccine is not the answer here.