Travel bubbles to Thailand may be doomed before they even start

The current state of Suvarnabhumi Airport foretells there is not much chance of Christmas in Bangkok for foreign tourists this year. (Photo copyright Pattaya Mail)

The Thai tourism ministry says it is proposing a more radical solution to the number-crunching crisis currently being suffered by the tourism industry. Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn says that travel bubbles are not substantial enough to prevent mass redundancy in the hotel and entertainment spheres over coming months.

At the moment, only select groups of foreigners are allowed to enter Thailand. They are mostly business people or special categories of the well-heeled including medical tourists seeking expensive surgery in the Land of Smiles. But they can’t just book an air ticket and arrive at the airport with a suitcase, a clutch of paperwork and a hopeful smile. Those days are gone. Probably for longer than we think.

Please Support Pattaya Mail

All foreigners seeking entry must apply to their local Thai embassy which will issue them with a long list of documentary requirements. Those who survive the paper chase will be given an all-important certificate of entry to show Thai immigration. The total arriving under this procedure is likely to be fewer than 100,000 in the remainder of 2020, a number woefully insufficient to prevent mass lay-offs in tourism-related businesses here.

Up to now, the Thai government has been talking – admittedly in a halting fashion – about travel bubbles as a way of upping the numbers. These would appear to be specially selected tourists with low Covid-19 credentials who would arrive in charter planes for a vacation of at least 14 days. No detail has yet been inked in, but the lucky elite would likely be from China and be whisked off to an island paradise such as Koh Samui or Phi Phi and told not to leave it for the duration.

The new plan of the Thai tourist ministry, Safe and Sealed, suggests allowing inbound tourists to restart their trips in October or November with more flexibility than the bilateral travel bubble scheme. Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Thai travel agents’ association, said the scheme would select foreign guests from an overseas city with a record of no infections for at least a month. They would travel without quarantining to participating hotels and provinces designated by tour operators. The president said the new plan would draw at least 500,000 tourists to Thailand to generate revenue of 50 billion baht. Even that is small potatoes compared with the trillions of baht earned during normal times.

Phil Cosgrove, of the Independent Travel Association based in UK, said the latest proposal was unlikely to apply to UK, mainland Europe or the United States. “Both the idea of a travel bubble or the Safe and Secured plan are quite similar and emphasize tourism from countries with low Covid-19 rates. In reality, the Thais are talking about Asian countries such as China and Vietnam.” He added that group travel of this nature was quite expensive as all travellers would need infection-free certificates, swab tests and insurance. What kind of insurance is not explained in the tourism ministry’s latest proposals. That’s a huge ambiguity.

Mr Cosgrove warned his fellow-countrymen to beware of recent press articles claiming that Thailand is about to open up to mass tourism once again. “Thailand has such a long history of welcoming foreign visitors en masse that everyone is having trouble thinking outside the traditional box.” So, not much chance of Christmas in Bangkok this year.