The news that Chinese nationals will be able to travel abroad from January 8 without experiencing compulsory quarantine and home isolation on return has been generally welcomed as boosting the Thai economy as it struggles to regain momentum in the post-covid world environment. There are still ambiguities, such as the surprising Beijing “rule” that Chinese nationals will need an expensive RT-PCR covid test 48 hours before departure from Thailand back to the home country. Such medical tests in Thailand are mostly organized by major hospitals, must be booked well in advance and cost the better part of US$100. Whether such a difficult “rule” is actually enforced by airport check-in staff and Chinese immigration officers remains to be seen.
Thailand has always been a popular destination for Chinese vacationers with 25 percent of all the 40 million foreign arrivals in 2019 touching down on flights from Chinese cities. Beijing has now withdrawn the limit on the daily number of allowable international flights which, in turn, will lead to pressure to allow more charter planes to land at Pattaya’s much-expanded U-tapao airport. Russian tour operators, such as Pegas Touristik and Odessa Tours, are currently lobbying to increase their flight numbers, now joined by Chinese travel authorities which claim to have an available stockpile of planes at Chinese airports which have been in mothballs during the covid pandemic.
Thanet Supornsahasrangsri, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, has already warned of staff shortages to work in hotels and other leisure-related industries. Many medium-sized hotels in south Pattaya are already urgently advertising for staff in preparation for the anticipated boom and are appealing to the foreign worker registration bureau, next to the Jomtien immigration office, to recruit more waiters and cleaning staff from Myanmar and Cambodia. The biggest problem the resort’s business owners may experience in 2023 will be keeping up with the demand for more staff. The Tourist Authority of Thailand aims to have 20 million foreign tourists visiting the country in 2023, but many gurus think 30 million plus is a distinct possibility if the required number of flights can be accommodated.
Geoff Clarkson, spokesman for Faraway Tours, said, “It’s not just a question of overall numbers arriving in Thailand because of pent-up demand after the covid pandemic, but the tourist crowds coming to Pattaya owing to the massive expansion of nearby U-tapao airport.” The number of daily flights should be limited to reduce the risks of pollution, traffic jams and pressure on local services such as immigration and land transportation.” He added that some of Pattaya’s major roads were still under renovation and not in a position to accommodate hundreds of huge tour buses which are associated with charter vacations. “However, there is time to prepare because it will take weeks for the detailed flights arrangements to be made.” Many Chinese vacationers are hoping to get away in late January which is Chinese New Year, a traditional foreign travel favorite.