Thailand lifts lengthy quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travelers

Bangkok (CNN) – Thailand has relaxed its quarantine restrictions and is reopening to vaccinated travelers arriving from several dozen countries and territories, providing a much-needed boost to the country’s troubled tourism industry.

As of November 1, fully vaccinated travelers who have stayed a minimum of 21 days in one of the 63 approved “low risk” countries and territories– including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, India and Canada – can avoid a prolonged quarantine in a hotel for the first time in more than 18 months.
Instead, incoming travelers who meet the updated requirements they will only need to stay one night in a government approved hotel while they wait for the results of a COVID-19 proof to be administered upon arrival. (Visitors under the age of 12 traveling with their parents are exempt from the vaccination requirement).
Fully vaccinated travelers arriving from countries not on the list are eligible to enter through a “litter box” scheme that requires them to stay at a government approved hotel or resort in one of the 17 “blue” destinationsincluding Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui, for seven nights before they are allowed to travel freely around the country.

International visitors follow a health official inside the arrivals hall of Suvarnabhumi International Airport on November 1, 2021.

Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images

Before the pandemic, tourism contributed about 15% of Thailand’s GDP, according to World Bank figures.

The November 1 reopening comes on the eve of Thailand’s traditional tourism peak season. In a statement released in mid-October, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the move was necessary to allow Thailand to take advantage of travelers they hope to visit during the upcoming winter holidays.

“We must act quickly but cautiously and not miss the opportunity to attract some of the New Year’s Eve and holiday season travelers … to support the many millions of people who make their living from our tourism, “he said.

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

At the start of the pandemic, Thailand reported few locally transmitted Covid-19 cases thanks to strict quarantine-on-arrival rules.

However, the country was hit by its third and worst wave of infections, which emerged from groups in various Bangkok nightclubs, in early April.

At the moment, cases are declining after a long period of lockdown, with the country reporting nearly 9,000 new Covid-19 cases per day on average.

A nationwide vaccine program officially began on June 7. According CNN Vaccine Tracker, about 42% of the population of Thailand has been fully vaccinated.

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thailand Hotel Association, told CNN Travel that the easing of entry restrictions on November 1 is an important milestone in the recovery process.

“Finally, the hoteliers see the light at the end of the tunnel and are eager and excited for the opening,” he says.

“The timing also coincides with the return of the domestic travel recovery. Our government now has a plan and we can begin our marketing strategies to recover guests. More importantly, there is now hope, not just for owners and operators, but for employees as well. “

Marisa highlights that “50% of the hotels were closed and 50% of the employees left the industry”, since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Of the 860,000 hotel workers before Covid-19, there are now only about 400,000 left in the industry,” he says.

“In preparation for the November 1 opening, some hotels are rehiring, but very few; most expect increased demand from January 2022. The government expects 300,000 inbound travelers per month, in November and December.”

International visitors await instructions from health officials inside the arrivals hall of Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

International visitors await instructions from health officials inside the arrivals hall of Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images

According to local media reports, Thailand’s airports predicts 7,000 passengers It will arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand’s largest gateway, on international flights on November 1.

Marisa adds that the recovery will also depend on the quarantine policies of the source markets.

“Most Asian countries still require quarantine for travelers, so initially the target travelers will be from the US / Europe / Scandinavia, traveling to Thailand annually during peak season,” says Marisa, adding that 60-70% of travelers to Thailand repeat visitors.

“There is definitely a pent-up lawsuit after such a long-term inability to travel.”

For the first time in 15 months, Thailand’s tourist hotspot, Phuket, is allowing vaccinated international tourists to enter without quarantine requirements. Thailand is pinning hopes on the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ plan to revive its tourism, which is vital to its economy. CNN’s Paula Hancocks reports.

The November 1 reopening comes on the heels of several programs launched to help the country’s tourism industry while cautiously easing entry restrictions.

On July 1, the Thai island of Phuket reopened to vaccinated travelers no quarantine requirements, although they had to stay in an approved hotel or resort, under the “Phuket Sandbox” scheme.

Now, as Thailand eases entry restrictions further, officials at other popular tourist destinations in Asia are watching closely as they shape their own reopening plans.

“[Thailand’s reopening] is an important step, as it is one of many learning case studies for all destinations within the Southeast Asian region, particularly as the region is a highly interdependent ecosystem, “says Liz Ortiguera, executive director of the Association of Asia Pacific Travel (PATA).

“Recovery will be uneven across the region, especially as the situation is constantly evolving, and factors such as new variants, equity and vaccine deployment, and border policies will play an important role in the recovery of travel over the next 12 to 14 months “.

“With the deployment of vaccines and attention to health and safety protocols, destinations in the region have focused a lot on these critical elements for recovery. They are creating safe, secure areas for incoming travelers, staff oriented to tourists and local staff. community. ”

Top image: A woman walks through the arrival gates of Suvarnabhumi International Airport on November 1, 2021. Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images

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