The prolonged suspension of the Test & Go scheme could cost the tourism sector at least 7 billion baht in January and shatter tourism confidence in the long run, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT).
Chamnan Srisawat, TCT president, said the unclear future of the Test & Go scheme not only caused a short-term impact on tourist numbers, but will also take a toll on travel confidence in Thailand, from which it will take a long time to recover.
The council estimated the number of tourists in January will plunge 50% to 100,000 from an average of around 200,000 tourists per month in November and December.
TCT predicted the lack of international arrivals because of the suspension of Test & Go means the tourism industry will lose at least 7 billion baht in revenue.
"The flip-flop on our reopening policy during the high season directly impacted opportunities for the rest of this year," Mr Chamnan said.
He said based on increased evidence that Omicron may cause mild symptoms, the government has to balance public health concerns with the economy.
Tourism was the first sector affected by the government's stringent measures, but there is no proper financial support for operators to maintain business or protect jobs during the pandemic the past two years, said Mr Chamnan.
The TCT hopes the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration's meeting on Friday approves more sandbox areas apart from Phuket, which could help mitigate the impact to some extent, he said.
However, sandbox schemes at different destinations will require a lot of procedures to ensure health and safety measures, meaning the earliest they would be ready is February, said Mr Chamnan.
He said the industry needs more proactive and timely action plans to save this high season as it tries to operate without the Test & Go scheme.
The government should offer more effective domestic tourism stimulus packages to uplift the local market, while waiting for the viral situation in Thailand and overseas to improve, said Mr Chamnan.
He said the "Tour Teaw Thai" scheme, which subsidises 40% of tour packages up to 5,000 baht for 1 million Thais, needs to be revamped to attract more tourists and operators. Mr Chamnan said representatives from the private sector must be appointed to the subcommittee to help revise the measures.
Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council, said the number of travellers approved for Thailand Pass that plan to enter Thailand after Jan 10 stood at 47,737.
If the government decides to set the cut-off date for entry on Jan 10, Thailand will lose 3.34 billion baht from this group as they might have to cancel their trips, he said.
This would leave 30,000 tourists in the Phuket sandbox from 77,999 total travellers who set an arrival date after Jan 10, as the sandbox scheme is allowed to operate as usual.
According to Thailand Pass dashboard, the top destinations for tourists are Phuket, followed by Bangkok, Chon Buri, Samut Prakan and Surat Thani.