BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha approved a proposal to allow certain groups of foreign tourists to visit the country during the coronavirus pandemic without having to go through quarantine measures, officials said Friday.
Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman of the Center for the COVID-19 Situation Administration, said the Prime Minister instructed relevant authorities to move forward with the so-called travel bubble agreement, which will allow tourism exchanges with countries where the coronavirus threat appears to be under control.
“The taskforce agreed with the proposal, but details of how to implement it are being studied,” Taweesin said. “They must ensure that people would benefit from it. Tourists would bring in revenues, in the meantime, our disease control measures must also be maintained. We don’t want to see them importing the disease and infecting our people.”
Thailand’s airspace has been closed to international flights since April with a few exceptions. The order is due to expire on June 30, and officials hoped to welcome the first group of travelers as early as next month.
“Thailand is preparing to open up the airspace on July 1,” tourism minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said. “The transport minister has confirmed with me that there would be no extension of the order.”
Under the proposal, only business and health travelers would be allowed in the initial phase. These groups of travelers have well-defined purposes of travel, allowing officials to trace them more easily, and tend to spend more than regular travelers, Taweesin said.
Potential countries and territories are China (including Hong Kong and Macao), Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Laos, Myanmar, and certain Middle Eastern countries, he added.
The spokesman said travelers will be required to take virus tests before and after boarding their flights to Thailand, buy insurances, and register with the government’s tracking system.
But tourism minister Pipat said the proposal does not mean an all-out opening to foreign tourists. Those traveling on business and medical purposes will be required to present invitation letters or doctor’s appointments from organizations or hospitals based in Thailand.
Hotels and businesses will also be required to pass hygiene standard tests before serving those tourists, he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been wreaking havoc on Thailand’s tourism industry, which is one of the major sources of revenue for the kingdom. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Sport, tourism contributed to 12.3 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018.
Pipat expected a 60 percent drop in this year’s tourism revenue, or a fall from 3.01 trillion baht in 2019 to 1.23 trillion baht by the end of 2020.
A cash handout of 3,000 baht is being proposed to boost domestic tourism. It is due to be submitted to the Cabinet next Tuesday, he said.