The streets of Bangkok are buzzing with traffic and crowds as Thailand completes its first week of relaxed border controls that lift the quarantine for travelers from more than 60 countries and territories.

Tourist attractions, shops and restaurants that had been closed for much of the year are reopening, cautiously optimistic for a recovery in an industry that in 2019 brought in more than 1.91 trillion baht (77 , S $ 6 billion).

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The country’s reopening on November 1 and the hot weather in Bangkok attracted sports teacher Christian Schubert, 40, to escape the cold of German autumn.

“The world has waited long enough for Covid-19 to be under control, and I feel like it’s finally time to travel,” said Mr Schubert, who was wandering around Bangkok’s Grand Palace complex barely 24 hours after landing on Wednesday (November 3).

“It’s a good time to come before the mass tourism crowds return.”

Already, around 16,000 foreigners have entered Thailand through the various travel programs that have been expanded since November 1, most of them from the United States, Germany, Britain and Japan, authorities said.

Fully vaccinated air travelers from approved countries and territories can enter the kingdom without undergoing quarantine.

Instead, they will take a Covid-19 test on landing and spend a night in a government-approved hotel where they will have to wait for a negative result before they can travel freely to Thailand.

Those coming from places not on the non-quarantine list can enter through any of the 17 “sandbox” provinces, where they can move without quarantine but must stay in the province for a week before traveling. elsewhere.

But true vacationers like Mr Schubert will remain a rare breed for the time being, those in the tourism industry told The Sunday Times.

“It is still early days. Most of the people entering Thailand now are either Thais, returning residents or people traveling for practical reasons, such as business trips,” said Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, President of the Thai Hotels Association (THA).

Independent tour guide Taweesak Sattayankarn, 70, who returned to work outside the Grand Palace and nearby Wat Phra Kaeo temple on Monday (November 1), said most visitors to the area are domestic tourists.

“I haven’t really seen any foreign tourists yet,” Taweesak said, noting that the palace received some 20,000 visitors a day, but now sees around 100.

Thais and Thai residents abroad are also eagerly awaiting the easing of border controls to avoid long quarantines on their return to Thailand.

Among them was digital marketer Rampi Murthy, 59, who arrived in Thailand from India on November 3, after lockdowns and restrictions in both countries repeatedly thwarted his plans to return to Bangkok. , where his family lives.

“Honestly, I think it’s a chore to fill out all the required paperwork and take the risk (of traveling) just for a vacation in Thailand right now,” Mr Murthy said.

He said he had struggled to book a flight from Mumbai to Bangkok, and believes the lack of international flights could also affect the number of travelers to Thailand.

Additionally, Thailand’s new entry system for inbound travelers, launched on November 1, also encountered issues, such as system errors and a long wait for emails confirming their requests, some have complained about. social networks.

Thai authorities have said they are working to improve the Thailand Pass registration process.

More than 65,000 people have signed up for the pass since November 1, with approval already granted to more than 12,000 travelers who are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

This is a marked improvement from the 73,000 counted in the first eight months of this year, but is only a fraction of the nearly 40 million visitors in 2019.

“The number of visitors expected in the coming months cannot be compared to the figures before the pandemic,” said Ms. Marisa of the THA. “But if we wait any longer, the disruption of the tourism industry will be unimaginable. Many hotels, even the largest, barely keep afloat.”

She expects the number of foreign tourists to increase only in December, when those from Europe seek to escape the winter season and when travelers familiarize themselves with the conditions for entering Thailand.

Chinese tourists who were the mainstay of inbound travelers to Thailand are also unlikely to return anytime soon, as China maintains its restrictions on outbound travel.

Last year, the number of Chinese tourists fell 88.6% from 2019.

We miss their presence sorely, said tuk tuk driver Prisha, 53, who took many Chinese tourists along Yaowarat Road in Bangkok, also known as Chinatown, before the pandemic.

“The locals don’t bother taking a tuk tuk,” said Mr Prisha, who bears a name.

Bangkok’s famous party scene in neighborhoods like Khaosan Road or Soi Cowboy, once brimming with music, booze and happy birthday parties, has mostly darkened after a months-long alcohol ban.

Only restaurants and restaurants certified by the government can serve alcohol until 9 p.m. Pubs, bars and karaoke lounges will remain closed until December 1.

A 30-year-old bar hostess at an adult entertainment club along the Soi Cowboy stretch called Phet said she returned to Bangkok from her hometown of Surin a few weeks ago.

“I wish we could get back to work soon. I miss those days,” she said.

Mandatory quarantines for visitors to their home countries or government travel warnings could also deter potential tourists to Thailand.

But some, like Singaporean Peter Tay, 56, who before the pandemic visited Thailand at least once a month, are not discouraged.

Currently, travelers entering Singapore from Thailand must give 10 days notice to stay home at a dedicated facility.

Mr Tay, who is retired and previously worked in sales, arrived in Bangkok on November 1 and plans to stay at least 2.5 months to visit other provinces.

When asked if he was worried about contracting Covid-19 while traveling, Mr Tay, who is fully vaccinated, said: ‘Life is short, if you don’t play now where will you find the weather?”

Copyright: The Straits Times / Asia News Network