Thailand delays hosting of first foreign tourists since April

Thailand delays hosting of first foreign tourists since April
Chinese tourists wear masks as they arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport during a welcome ceremony of Chinese Lunar New Year travellers in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan 22, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

BANGKOK - Thailand is pushing back plans to receive its first batch of foreign tourists due to administrative issues, a senior official said on Thursday (Oct 8), adding to uncertainty about when it will welcome back visitors vital to its economy.

Processes involved in applying for and issuing special visas is delaying the soft reopening, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said, adding that about 100 tourists were expected to arrive this month.

Foreign arrivals stopped in April after the government banned commercial flights to keep the coronavirus at bay.

In September, the TAT said some 120 tourists on special long-stay visas would fly directly from Guangzhou to the resort island of Phuket this week, but their travel has been delayed.

Chinese media has questioned the identity of those tourists, however, with reports unable to confirm any Thailand travel bookings among agents in Guangzhou.

Operators in Phuket are also puzzled.

"We have not been notified about the arrivals," Phuket Tourism Association president Bhummikitti Ruktaengam said.

"Phuket is ready, but we need clarity, where are they from, how many and where will they stay?" Mr Bhummikitti said, adding that more information would help create confidence among the local community.

The authorities last month announced that a limited number of long-stay visitors would be allowed from countries deemed low risk and their trips must include two weeks of quarantine at their resort.

Thailand has just over 3,600 confirmed cases, among the lowest in Asia, but its economy could contract by a record 7.8 per cent.

The tourism-reliant country could see just 6.7 million foreign visitors this year, the government predicts, after a record 39.8 million in 2019, whose spending made up about 11.4 per cent of GDP, or 1.93 trillion baht (S$84.1 billion).

The authorities had earlier shelved a "travel bubble" plan to allow movement of travellers between countries with low infection rates.

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