The Tourism council of Thailand is proposing to help out the country’s forlorn lack of foreign visitors by organizing one-month tour packages to include full inoculations against coronavirus as well as the two weeks’ quarantine requirement. The cost would be about 150,000 baht or US$5,000. The Council says that the Food and Drug Administration would first need to approve private hospitals reserving more Covid-19 vaccines to enable tour organizers to partner with them to offer jabs to foreign travellers.
There is considerable evidence of a growing international market for the wealthy and the healthy who are endeavouring to jump the queue for vaccination. In the US, tens of thousands of citizens are travelling outside their area in search of the jabs, particularly to Miami where Disneyland is no longer the main attraction. Although vaccines in US are distributed to individual states, they are technically federal property and do not belong to a specific locality.
In the UK, there is a booming business in Brits shopping abroad in Dubai for private appointments to receive the Pfizer or Oxford/AstraSeneca vaccines. The cost is typically 25,000 – 40,000 pounds but includes first-class travel, five star hotels and even a side trip to The Maldives which is currently open to all travellers without restriction. Although the British government is currently trying to discourage foreign travel and banning “holidays”, there is an exclusion clause for health and wellness which is now being exploited.
Thai authorities have made several suggestions for restarting international travel in recent months. These have included travel bubbles, green zones, Snowbird vacations and a Special Tourist Visa (STV). However, the notions have either been rejected by the Cabinet, stillborn or less successful than hoped. The STV in three months has attracted only hundreds rather than thousands of visitors and is regarded as bureaucratically onerous. For example, it requires the double-whammy of Covid-specific insurance of US$100,000 as well as general health cover of 400,000 baht (inpatient) and 40,000 baht (outpatient).
Thai travel agents argue there are several uncertainties about the vaccination vacation scheme in Thailand. They say that Thailand is not considered a Covid vaccine hub and there is current uncertainty about which specific vaccines might be available and whether private hospitals would be able to obtain sufficient stocks. Chotechuang Soorangura, of NS Travel and Tours, said he believed most people would prefer to receive the jabs in their own country.
But The Association of British Travel Agents appeared to be more optimistic. Gwen Reece, a London based consultant, said, “If Thailand can get its act together, offer vaccines approved by the World Health Organization and keep prices reasonable, there could be a new market there.” She added that many Brits with ready cash and time on their hands, including better-off pensioners in an age group regarded as vulnerable to the virus, would not hesitate to queue jump. “But the potential may have disappeared by the last quarter of 2021 as waiting times in the UK diminish or disappear altogether,” she cautioned.