Bubble Bursts: Aviation Chief Balks at Virus Travel Zones

Patong Beach on Phuket Island is cordoned off from the public on June 8, 2020.

BANGKOK — The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand on Wednesday postponed the much publicized proposal to allow foreign tourists to visit the country during the pandemic without having to go through quarantine.

Agency director Chula Sukmanop said the government is concerned about the possible “second wave” of coronavirus if the border is open. Officials have been placing their hope on the so-called travel bubble agreement – which would allow tourism exchanges with countries where the outbreak appears to be under control – to revive the crippled tourism industry.

“The travel corridor was postponed indefinitely as those countries [in the agreement] are facing a renewed surge of infections,” Chula said.

Thailand had previously entered into negotiations with China, Japan, and South Korea to allow travellers from these countries to visit Thailand for leisure as early as August.

Chula said the aviation industry will need to rely on domestic travellers in the meantime before international flights can fully resume.

“The demand for domestic flights is improving,” Chula said. “Flights are now resumed, while local tourism operators are releasing promotional campaigns to stimulate visits to their provinces.”

He continued, “The government’s stimulus package would also increase the spending power and, in turn, benefit the industry.”

Transport minister Saksayam Chidchob also said border reopening measures can only move forward if the green light has been given by health authorities.

“We have made it clear that the proposal must be in line with the measures outlined by the health ministry,” Saksayam said. “For airlines that have already submitted plans to resume international flights this September, we will have to wait for the government to decide.”

Effects of the coronavirus have been devastating to Thailand’s tourism sector, which accounted for about 11 percent of Thailand’s GDP in 2019.

Officials have warned that only an estimated 8 million foreign tourists this year, 80 percent down from last year, due to the impact from COVID-19 and air travel restrictions worldwide.

But Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said there’s still a chance for tourist arrivals in late 2020.

“We have to keep our eyes on both the domestic and international situation,” Yuthasak said. “We expect them to come in this year’s fourth quarter, so there’s still time to reconsider the options. As of now, we will have to focus on domestic travellers.”

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