Business Guilds Advise Caution Over Coronavirus ‘Travel Bubble’

Tourists visit Wat Rong Kun in Chiang Rai province on Oct. 5, 2018.
Tourists visit Wat Rong Kun in Chiang Rai province on Oct. 5, 2018.

BANGKOK — Business associations on Tuesday urged the government to reconsider a proposal to allow foreign visitors to Thailand without having to go through coronavirus quarantine measures.

As the government is pushing forward the so-called travel bubble agreement to allow tourism exchange with countries where the coronavirus appeared to be under control, two trade guilds said the authorities should delay the arrival of foreign tourists amid fears of a second wave of virus outbreak, like the recent new cases seen in China.

“We should begin with domestic tourism first,” Thai Chamber of Commerce chairman Karin Sarasin said. “They may not be able to compensate for the loss of foreign tourists, but given the situation in China, I think it’s better to play safe. Then we could continue further with business travelers, while regular tourists should come last.”

Under the travel bubble proposal, only business and health travelers from certain countries would be allowed in the initial phase, and the measure may extend to general tourists in the future. Thailand’s airspace has been closed to international flights since April, except for essential and military journeys.

Deputy immigration chief Cherngron Rimphadee greets tourists at Suvarnabhumi Airport on April 11, 2019.

Countries and territories to be included in the agreement include China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. But Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency said 40 new cases of coronavirus were reported in China on Tuesday, 27 of which were reported in the capital alone.

President of the Thai-Chinese Tourism Trade Association Anan Phipathananunth said it’s too early to allow all-out opening to foreign tourists. He suggested only tourists travelling with a tour group should be permitted since they are easier to monitor.

“Tour operators have all the details of their clients and they are willing to follow the regulations,” Anan said. “They can screen clients from provinces in China that no longer have an outbreak and have their clients get tested before coming. They have well-defined travel itinerary, so if anyone is infected, they can be traced quickly.”

But Phaichit Viboontanasarn of the Thai Chamber of Commerce in China said he supported the idea of travel bubble agreement since there’s demand from the China side. However, he urged the government to extend the plan further to include tourists since they are crucial for the swift recovery of Thai economy.

“Although I don’t have an available figure at hand, I believe there are about a couple of thousands of Chinese business people working in Thailand,” Phaichit said. “There’s certainly a demand for business travels, but the government should not only focus on travel bubbles since regular tourism is also important.”

Despite concerns about the renewed outbreak in Beijing, Phaichit said he trusted China’s ability to contain the outbreak.

“The figures from China may appear to be numerous, but it’s only a fraction of Chinese population,” he said. “Of course there are risks, but I believe they maintain a good control over there. They conduct more tests than us and have more stringent lockdown measures.”

He continued, “If Thai and Chinese governments can work the terms out together, I think we can keep the risks under control while our economy can get going sooner.”

A file photo of Chinese tourists at the Grand Palace, Bangkok.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports declined to comment on the matter. Ministry spokesman Khananart Muennu said PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has instructed officials to refrain from giving interviews with the media since details are yet to be finalized.

Health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said he had begun negotiations with Chinese and Singaporean counterparts, but stressed that the proposal is still in the pipeline as the Thai government is yet to finalize the measures.

“We will make it happen as soon as we can,” Anutin said. “I think it wouldn’t take much time since we have already begun working on it. There are some details which need to be finalized, including safeguarding measures which is our utmost priority.”

He also said that the Cabinet has approved a stimulus package for domestic tourism, which the government will handout 2,000 baht travel allowance for Thai citizens aged 20 and above.