Slashing quarantine won’t solve Thailand’s tourist dearth

“All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air.”

Thailand’s disease control committee has proposed a halving of the two-weeks’ hotel isolation requirement for vaccinated tourists.  Health ministry official Opas Karnkawinpong said that Covid tests would still be required and explained that the move would help business travel and foreign students, not just tourism.  The unvaccinated will still be subject to 10 days hotel isolation (air) or 14 days (land).

But travel agents point out that most foreign governments are not remotely keen on their nationals coming to Thailand right now.  The US issued a red negative alert for Thailand and the UK even forces its own returning residents to quarantine in an hotel if returning from the Land Of Smiles.  The cost is an extra 2,285 pounds payable in advance.  EU countries have not banned visits to Thailand, but most warn of the Covid risks and/or the lack of entertainment opportunities after dark.  Australia has banned its nationals from going on holiday anywhere abroad.

Many countries are discouraging vacations in Thailand right now.

There has been speculation that China and India will fill the void.  But China does not permit group tours, the mainstay of the market prior to 2020, and warns of up to three weeks’ compulsory quarantine for individual visitors returning from abroad.  It is true that India does not require automatic quarantine for returning Indians.  But the country’s health ministry website requires prior uploading of negative PCR report, thermal health tests at the Indian airport and the “possibility” of quarantine in individual cases.

Thai tourist authorities have also raised the possibility of a mass Russian return.  The Moscow Times points out that returning Russians are screened on arrival and must self-isolate until they can prove they are negative for Covid infection.  Separately, there has been talk of an upcoming travel bubble between South Korea and Thailand.  But, so far at least, it’s just talk.  Vietnam has recently agreed to resume international air routes with several Asian countries, but not yet Thailand.

Bars and entertainment palaces remain padlocked in forlorn Pattaya.

The Phuket-Samui Sandbox showed that around 30,000 foreigners did make it to Thailand in the last three months, although some of these appear to have been returning residents who cannily used the initiative to avoid formal quarantine and get back home.  It’s equally true that these numbers are a tiny drop in the ocean if aggregated across Thailand.  In 2020, the overall number of visitors neared 40 million.

A start has been made.  Covid infection numbers in Thailand appear to be falling and progress in vaccination is now plain to see.  The next two months could witness Thailand being burdened with fewer restrictions imposed by the governments of its erstwhile international tourist markets.  But, to date, only about a quarter of the 72 million people living in Thailand have been vaccinated, according to World Health Organization figures.  Not enough of course.

The remaining Thai tourist problem is what vacationers will do once they get here.  The beaches are mostly fine in the main resorts and there is a host of commendable opportunities to visit historic temples, exotic gardens and proud monuments.  That takes care of mornings and afternoons. But the country’s ongoing obsession with banning alcohol remains a major stumbling block.  A country which threatens punishment of diners for having a glass of wine with their evening meal is not ready to open its international gates.  Not by a long way.