The first foreign tourists for months will arrive next month but will be restricted to five islands in the south of Thailand. They include the popular beach resorts of Koh Samui, Phi Phi and Phuket, but Pattaya has not been given the all clear.
Dr Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, who heads up the government’s disease control department, said that the first bubblers would arrive in charted and closed groups who would be greeted on arrival at the airport with the new one-hour result Covid-19 test. They would then be whisked away in special buses to their designated hotel on the special island with the strict understanding they must not leave its shores. The Thai Chana app might well be the mechanism to prevent travel or wandering deviance.
Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has already ruled that only countries with the pesky virus well under control are eligible, which cancels all applications from the US, Europe and most other places. Only Asian countries are on the approved list for now, with Singapore and specified cities in China and Japan leading the field.
The problem with Pattaya as a destination for the bubblers is its mainland location: all too easy to rent a car or take a bus or train to another province. And the last thing we need is a return to the days of 24-hour road blocks and spot checks. The Pattaya business and travel association has lobbied hard to be included, but the resort will have to wait until the pilot schemes to the islands have run their course.
However, Pattaya will benefit modestly from the other government-approved schemes to admit foreigners – of any nationality – provided they fit into an agreed category. These include permanent residents, teachers and students, significant medical tourists, those with Thai spouses or families and various kinds of economic facilitators and business people. They must have voluminous documentation and apply at the Thai embassy in the country of anticipated departure. They will mostly require a 14-days quarantine period in Thailand at their own expense.
But there is one final if amorphous group under active consideration. Ultra-rich, vacationing foreigners of any nationality might be allowed back as special guests of the government. They would avoid quarantining and a wearisome bureaucracy, but would undergo coronavirus testing before and after their arrival. They would even be free to travel around domestically. But the catch is they must arrive on a private jet.
According to the international facilitator Jetex, which specializes in private aircraft and terminals round the world and particularly promotes tropical getaways, there are 50,000 such planes for hire worldwide, just itching to take off to any paradise you care to mention. U-tapao airport in Rayong is already said to be preparing a welcome poster. Well Hello Big Spender.