BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is deliberating a proposal to open up the country to foreign tourists from countries where the coronavirus appears to be under control, officials said Friday.
Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said PM Prayut has expressed interest in negotiating tourism exchanges with those countries, known as a bubble agreement, which will allow tourists to travel without having to go through the quarantine measures.
“The Prime Minister has given a direct order,” Phiphat said. “The Thai government is ready to negotiate with countries or a group of countries that are willing to accept tourists. We will do it right away.”
Thailand placed a ban on international flights since April, which is now extended to June 30. Only Thais on repatriation flights and certain groups of foreigners such as diplomats and work permit holders may fly into the country, though they must go through a 14-day quarantine upon their arrival.
Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the idea of bubble agreement is still being studied. Potential countries are Asian countries within six-hour flying time to Thailand, he said.
But it does not mean that tourists will return in large numbers soon, Yuthasak said. Only certain groups of tourists such as business and health travellers will be allowed to visit the country for the sake of public safety, since the global pandemic is far from being over.
“We will have measures in place for them,” Yuthasak said. “They will need to present their health certificates and insurance policies before boarding their flights to Thailand. They will also need to take a COVID-19 test and download a tracking application upon their arrival. It doesn’t mean that we will drop our guards.”
Certain countries such as Australia and New Zealand have begun negotiations on travel corridors, the tourism chief said. Japan is considering lifting its entry ban on visitors from Thailand and three other countries as well.
Thailand’s tourism industry is desperately looking for a path to recovery after a plunge in arrivals and revenues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many businesses also rely on the Chinese tourists, about 10 million of whom visited Thailand last year. According to data published by the tourism ministry, Chinese tourists spent about 580 billion baht in 2019, or about 30 percent of the overall spending by foreign tourists.