International travellers may soon be able to visit Thailand’s largest island, according to a new pilot program floated by the country’s Tourism Minister.
Thailand’s Minister of Tourism Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn last week said the country is aiming to allow international tourists to enter the country through a program dubbed “Safe and Sealed”, as reported by CNN Travel and local Thai outlet The Thaiger.
“I have asked the prime minister for approval to set October 1 as the date to allow [inbound] tourists to enter,” he said.
“I also have requested to use Phuket as a pilot model … and have received approval from the Center for Economic Situation Administration.”
If successful, the project will be expanded to include other destinations across Thailand, CNN Travel reported.
According to the proposal, in the beginning, tourists will be permitted to fly into Phuket, where they will need to quarantine in a designated resort for 14 days.
CNN Travel reported that the Thai Tourism Minister cited Patong Beach as an example of an area where this could work.
Special one-kilometre zones consisting of three-to-four resorts could be set up there, which would allow quarantined tourists to spend time on the beach if they stay in their designated area.
Travellers will be required to take a COVID-19 test at the beginning and end of their quarantine period, after which they will be free to travel on the island, The Thaiger reported.
However, according to both outlets, the minister said that tourists who want to travel beyond Phuket will have to stay in quarantine for an additional week, and will be required to take a third COVID-19 test at the end of their total 21-day quarantine period.
According to CNN Travel, hotel staff who work in these designated zones would not be permitted to leave without first going into quarantine. They will be tested regularly for COVID-19, as well, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A step in the right direction, but questions remain
Commenting on the news, data and analytics company GlobalData said the conditions of the pilot program showed Thailand is keen to open the door to other destinations as well prior to its peak season, but at the same time wants to be cautious.
“From the point of view of ensuring travellers’ safety and preventing the spread of COVID-19, the plan makes a lot of sense. However, there are some challenges,” GlobalData’s director of travel and tourism consulting, Animesh Kumar, said.
“Thailand attracts 35 to 40 million tourists every year but this year due to COVID-19 and the resultant travel restrictions, the number is set to contract to less than 10 million.
“November to March is the peak season in Thailand. Thailand attracts [a] high volume of tourists from neighbouring countries but typically, the length of such trips is short. Comparatively, travellers from other countries stay for longer duration.
“However, the average length of stay in Thailand is not more than three to five days. This plan will work with travellers who are willing to stay in Phuket with varying degree of restrictions for at least 21 days. That segment is not large.
“It must also be noted that Phuket receives higher rainfall in October compared to most other months,” he said.
Kumar added questions also remain as to how the government plans to track the movement of tourists and ensure that they do not go out of the proposed one-kilometre radius during quarantine.
“GPS tracking is not very accurate and, hopefully, the government does not intend to use ankle bracelets,” he said.
“One can certainly not blame Thailand, a country that relies heavily on the tourism sector, for trying.
“However, the duration of travel, varying degree of restrictions, higher costs, uncertainty regarding tracking methodologies, formalities, connectivity will ensure that Thailand attracts only the most ‘determined’ travellers.
“The plan is a gamble, which may pay off if the initial set of tourists do not pick infection within Thailand and if requirements are relaxed before opening other destinations.”
Travel Weekly has contacted the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for comment.
Featured image source: iStock/Thaisign