Bangkok (CNN) – Thailand has eased its quarantine restrictions and reopens its doors to vaccinated travelers arriving from several dozen countries and territories, giving a much-needed boost to the struggling country’s tourism industry.
International visitors follow a health official inside the arrival terminal at 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 reopening on November 1 comes on the eve of Thailand’s traditional high tourist 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 wishing to visit during the upcoming winter break.
“We must act quickly but always with caution and not miss the opportunity to attract some of the year-end and year-end travelers (…) to support the millions of people who make a living from our tourism” , did he declare.
‘The 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 rules on arrival.
However, the country was hit by its third and worst wave of infections, which emerged from clusters at several Bangkok nightclubs in early April.
Right now, cases are declining after a long period of lockdown, and the country is on average reporting nearly 9,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, told CNN Travel that the easing of entry restrictions on November 1 is an important step in the recovery process.
“Finally, hoteliers see the light at the end of the tunnel and are impatient and excited for the opening,” she says.
“The timing also coincides with the return of the domestic travel resumption. Our government now has a plan and we can begin our marketing strategies to win back customers. More importantly, there is now hope, not just for owners and operators, but for employees as well. “
Marisa notes that “50% of hotels have been closed and 50% of employees have left the industry” since the start of the pandemic.
“Of the 860,000 hotel workers before Covid-19, only around 400,000 remain in the industry,” she said.
“Preparing for the Nov. 1 opening, some hotels are rehiring, but very few; most expect higher demand from January 2022. The government is forecasting 300,000 inbound travelers per month, in November and December.”
International visitors await instructions from health officials inside the arrival terminal at Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images
Marisa adds that the recovery will also depend on the quarantine policies of the source markets.
“Most countries in Asia still require a quarantine for travelers, so the target travelers initially will be from the United States / Europe / Scandinavia, who travel to Thailand every year for the peak season,” Marisa said, adding that 60 70% of travelers to Thailand are regulars. visitors.
“There is certainly pent-up demand after such a long-term inability to travel.”
The Nov. 1 reopening follows several programs launched to help the country’s tourism industry while cautiously easing entry restrictions.
Now, as Thailand eases entry restrictions further, officials of other popular tourist destinations in Asia are closely watching the development of their own reopening plans.
“[Thailand’s reopening] is a milestone as it is one of many learning case studies for all destinations in the South East Asia region, especially since the region is a highly interdependent ecosystem ” , said Liz Ortiguera, CEO of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
“Recovery will be uneven across the region, especially as the situation is constantly evolving and factors such as new variants, vaccine equity and deployment, and border policies will play an important role in the recovery of travel to the region. over the next 12-14 months.
“With the deployment of vaccines and attention to health and safety protocols, destinations in the region have focused heavily on these foundational elements of recovery. community.”
Top image: A woman walks through the arrivals gates at Suvarnabhumi International Airport on November 1, 2021. Credit: Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images