As the Island of Phuket prepares to reopen to vaccinated foreign travellers health officials are rushing to vaccinate up to 460,000 people. Phuket has set July 1st for its reopening date to vaccinated foreign tourists that will no longer be required to quarantine.
Vaccinated tourists be able to roam the island of Phuket freely without posing any coronavirus risk to the rest of Thailand’s population.
“If we can build immunity for 70-80% of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine,” Phuket’s Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong told Reuters.
While medical workers, members of the cabinet and the elderly were the first to be vaccinated, Thailand’s decision to prioritise Phuket over other parts of the country underscores the central role of tourism to the economy.
The government wants to see at least 100,000 tourists come to Phuket in the third quarter. It also hopes that as vaccinations worldwide progress it will see a spike in demand in the fourth quarter and that nationwide some 6.5 million visitors will have spent 350 billion baht ($11 billion) by the end of the year.
“It’s a challenge. But that will contribute to GDP to some extent,” said Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn. “We don’t expect vaccinated tourists will come in like a broken dam but we hope to have quality visitors with high spending.”
Visitors from Europe, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are expected to return first, Yuthasak said.
Strict 14-day quarantine requirements for overseas visitors have helped Thailand limit coronavirus infections to around 29,100 cases and 95 deaths but have proven to be too great a hurdle for most tourists.
Programs to attract long-term tourists who test negative for the coronavirus have largely flopped. Even with creative measures such as quarantine at golf resorts.
Songklod Wongchai, an analyst at Finansia Syrus, believes Thailand could see a quick rebound in tourism, citing the example of the Maldives which has seen hotel occupancy rates bounce back to 70-80% despite cases of the virus.
“Pent-up demand may come back faster than expected. I think the Land of Smiles will start smiling again,” he said.
Meanwhile, Thailand is also looking into setting up a travel bubble with Singapore. Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Ministry will discuss the idea this week with officials from the Singapore Embassy.
Tourism officials are also looking at potential travel bubbles with other neighbouring countries with a low number of active Covid-19 cases, such as Vietnam and Laos, according to sports and tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.
“We have acknowledged that Singapore has previously run the travel bubble with Australia and New Zealand. If Singapore agrees to run the scheme with Thailand as well, we would probably be able to receive tourists from Australia and New Zealand, in addition to Singaporeans.”
Phiphat is also pushing to open the country up to visitors from the Middle East, adding that many have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Thailand is slowly reopening to vaccinated foreign visitors. The quarantine period has been cut down to 7 days for vaccinated visitors arriving in Thailand.