Thailand’s Special Tourist Visa (STV) gets curiouser and curiouser

Private jets rather than charter flights could be the immediate STV targets.

The website of the Thailand Longstay Company, set up in 2001 in partnership with government agencies, is surprisingly announcing that the STV is available to tourists wanting to stay as short as a month in Thailand. And that includes the compulsory two weeks quarantine which, incidentally, is usually 16 days as the first and final are commonly regarded as zero for counting purposes.

Another question mark hovers above the insurance requirements. TLC states that applicants must have a minimum of US$100,000 (3 million plus baht) cover for coronavirus-related medical costs and a separate lump sum insurance of at least 400,000 baht for other inpatient treatment. Or do they? The Thai embassy based at Bern in Switzerland, almost unique in posting information about the STV at present, suggests on its website that only the insurance of US$100,000 is required.

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The Thai authorities have been clear that the STV will be granted only to individuals living in areas with a good track record of combatting the disease and being virtually free of community-transmitted infection. There does not appear to be a definitive list of the countries, although government ministers have spoken of China and Scandinavia as the early birds. Recent press reports speak of possible delays before any charter planes actually land and confusion at the civil aviation ministry.

An additional confusion is the actual role of local embassies and the TLC. The website of the TLC says it can do all the legwork for a 10,000 baht fee, including the immigration police check, and will liaise with the appropriate consulate at late stage to issue the visa. But the website of the Bern embassy details all the regulations without mentioning the TLC. The actual visa fee is 2,000 baht, obviously exclusive of air fares, health insurance, quarantine and later accommodation and assorted health certificates.

So the potential market for STV is very unclear. Perhaps that is inevitable as much visa policy has been devised on the hoof in recent months. Some believe that the underlying theme is to pilot a mass tourism scheme from the gigantic Chinese market. If so, the huge bureaucracy and high costs suggest a very limited appeal. Even if many more charter flights are agreed in principle, it is far from clear where the bottoms on seats are coming from.

This has led some to speculate that the immediate market may not be tourists packed on charter flights at all, but the super-rich on their private jets kept well away from the glare of publicity, airline schedules and airport problems. These are the guys and gals who can spend their quarantine in six-star luxury comfort, using their platinum cards to avoid touching bank notes. Their spending power is hugely higher than the tourist travelling economy class on a charter flight with a limited budget. The private jet hire and sales companies all agree there are thousands of parked luxury aircraft just waiting to whisk you away to just about anywhere. Spokespersons for Aircharter and XO Aviation confirm interest in Thailand is huge. And there is no shortage of billionaires these days.