Clean break: Thailand promises safe tourism in future

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"My health and safety is going to be my top priority when I can travel again, and this will play a big part in where I choose to go," says 32-year-old Malaysian business consultant and frequent traveller Putri Fazura.

She echoes the thoughts of many. Hoping to recapture the confidence of tourists like Fazura, Thailand is positioning itself as the number one safe destination to visit when travel restarts. Authorities have said they will roll out measures to keep visitors safe.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to create a Security and Health Administration (SHA) certification to boost confidence for tourists once borders reopen and travel resumes.

The idea behind it is to ensure visitors to the country are kept safe from the moment they step off a plane until they leave, while also protecting industry workers.

Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor for international marketing at TAT, says the move is one of the first of its kind in the world, and he expects many countries to follow.

"This is a proposal for all tourist businesses to adhere to certain guidelines and regulations concerning hygiene. Eventually, every country should have one," says Chattan.

The Amazing Thailand SHA certification will target 10 types of business related to the tourism industry to ensure they commit to strict safety measures: Restaurants and cafes; accommodation providers; amusement and recreation parks; transport operators; travel agents and tour operators; spas, wellness resorts and retreats; department stores and shops; golf courses and driving ranges; theatres; cinemas and souvenir shops.

Measures required to attain certification include hand sanitiser being available in all public areas, adequate hand soap in restrooms, maintaining high standards of cleanliness, and ensuring sufficient ventilation.

"This is one of the most revolutionary moves we can make at this time," says Chattan. "This is a positive step, not only in creating confidence but in really ensuring we protect the people who depend on the tourism industry, work in the industry and those who visit us."

Chattan says once restrictions are lifted across the country, the immediate focus will be on domestic tourism. TAT hopes countries in the region will see the efforts being made to create a safe environment for visitors and feel confident about their citizens travelling to Thailand.

"We need to get that travel momentum going," he says. "We believe it will have a carry-on effect as more Thais travel and feel safe. Then ASEAN countries will feel safe coming to us, depending on border entries and air travel."

TAT is currently working with other ministries and the private sector to formalise the certification before rolling it out across the country.

Drafting solid health and safety measures is essential to stimulate tourism, says Daniel Fraser, CEO of Thai-based tour operator Smiling Albino. He has proposed launching a Hygiene Plus campaign, which will see the country's tourism players pledge to meet agreed hygiene standards.

"We want to see Thailand emerging as a hygiene-friendly destination," says Fraser. "We want to put in place a series of commitments, from the moment guests leave their hotel to everything that happens in between until they return home."

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The Hygiene Plus scheme would see certain standards set out and approved by an official medical body. These would be adopted by the country's tourism players. Fraser says they could be implemented across the region to help reassure tourists.

Jens Thraenhart, executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office, also says healthy and safe travel will be its number one priority once tourism resumes.

"This is an important measure to have in place once travel starts," he says. "One thing many destinations are looking at is positioning themselves as being safe, and they need to have measures in place."

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, seasoned traveller Kong Chantha would jet-set across the region for work and play. The 32-year-old Cambodian accountant says despite missing visiting other countries, it will take time for her confidence to be restored.

However, she says enforcing health and safety measures across the board help reassure her about visiting a destination.

"When we can travel again, I know I'll be nervous," she says. "I want to be reassured that I'm going to be safe, that the hotel I'm staying in and the restaurants I'm eating in are taking serious measures. This is going to be very important in the future."

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.