Dashing hopes of travel-starved Singaporeans: Thailand unlikely to open its doors to tourists till 2021, says tourism rep

Wat Arun temple and its reflection on a mirror are seen on the banks of Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, Thailand July 25, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

If you miss the sumptuous food, cheap shopping and night markets in Thailand and are hoping to travel there soon, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that's not likely to happen this year.

At a webinar hosted by Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office and TravelMole last week, Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), predicted that the Land of Smiles is unlikely to open its borders to tourists in 2020.

"There has been no talk of or timeline issued for reopening the country to inbound or outbound leisure travel during weekly Covid-19 national meetings," he said.

The deputy governor for international marketing at TAT further explained that as part of the government's "very, very cautious" approach to reopening borders, he does not expect Thailand to welcome tourists until at least 2021.

"I see no signal from the government that the country will open this year. That's putting a lot of pressure on the tourism industry. The Christmas period, usually the high season, is in jeopardy and I'm looking horribly even to Chinese New Year in February, which is an iffy proposition at best now. Unfortunately, this is not a rosy picture."

Ayudhya remarked that discussions regarding the creation of travel bubbles have also halted due to the coronavirus outbreaks in many of the countries that Thailand was hoping to get tourists from, including Vietnam.

Currently, travellers on official business are allowed to enter the country under strict health measures.

Apart from diplomats, UN officials, business people and investors who have an agreement with the government, the list of groups permitted has expanded to film crews, exhibition personnel and holders of Thailand Elite visas.

So far, this arrangement is only applicable to visitors from countries such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, China and Hong Kong, and each visitor must spend two weeks in quarantine.

Ayudhya added that there have been discussions for when safe bubbles can be formed for recreational travel, with a proposal that all visitors spend at least a month in the country. This would be in select areas such as Koh Samui or Phuket.

However, such plans have been stalled as the government is taking a "wait-and-see attitude". "They want to see how the current groups of foreigners, such as film crews and diplomats, do first. There is still a lot of nervousness," Ayudhya said.

But there may be some hope for international tourists yet.

Last week, the Bangkok Post reported that Thai tourism operators are suggesting a new inbound tourism plan, named "Safe and Sealed", to replace travel bubbles.

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At a joint meeting of the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the private sector chaired by Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, tourism-related groups proposed to allow tourists to enter Thailand in the fourth quarter of the year.

The plan would include safer screening and have more flexibility for many countries compared to the travel bubble scheme.

Under the initiative, visitors will only be selected from cities with records of zero infections for at least 30 days and they will be able to travel and stay in designated hotels and provinces.

Other strict measures include requirements for an infection-free certificate 72 hours before flights, insurance and swab tests.

Besides this, Singapore's National Development Minister Lawrence Wong had already served a warning last month that Singaporeans are unlikely to be able to travel for leisure for the rest of the year. "Our overall advisory, it remains for everyone in Singapore, is not to travel, to avoid all travel," he'd stated.

Guess we can only wait and see if the plans will come to fruition this year and how the virus situation pans out locally and around the globe. Meanwhile, here's to holding on to our passports till we can all travel again.