Open up Thailand without restrictions or risk the country being left behind by competitors, according to travel and hospitality figures.
IT was a unanimous call among leading figures in Thailand’s tourism industry: let go with Test & Go.
“Thailand is now at a crossroads. There is no choice but to open and get rid of Test & Go. We need to change our mindset from pandemic to endemic,” said Thailand Hotels Association President Marisa Sukosol , during a summit during the Thailand Tourism Forum (TTF), which was held on March 1 at Conrad Bangkok.
Sukosol referred to Thailand’s Test & Go Program which allows fully vaccinated tourists to enter the country without quarantine requirements; however, tourists must obtain pre-approval for a pass and test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival at their hotels.
Opening up the country with minimal restrictions was a consistent line among senior travel and hospitality officials who signed a pledge at TTF 2022 to rebuild the tourism sector. Otherwise, Thailand risks being left behind as more countries around the world reopen to international visitors without a myriad of entry restrictions.
Thailand’s previous advantages as one of the first countries in Asia-Pacific to open up under the Phuket Sandbox program have gradually eroded as more countries in the region, including the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, have adopted easier entry policies.
Even though Thailand’s Test & Go program was simplified from March 1, with the fifth-day RT-PCR test requirement replaced by the rapid antigen test, the current entry rules – the need to use a online check-in system and having an insurance policy with coverage of at least USD 50,000 – are still a significant barrier for potential visitors.
Instead, Thailand should “compare itself to competitors” and embrace international travel standards, said Minor Hotels International founder and chairman Bill Heinecke, who recently wrote an open letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan. -o-cha for simplify entry requirements for tourists.
Hoteliers are particularly concerned that the longer travel restrictions last, the harder it will be for Thailand’s tourism sector to recover from the pandemic. The persistent problem of labor shortage is becoming more acute than ever for the tourism sector, as more and more qualified personnel leave the travel and hospitality industries permanently.
Chairman of the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau, Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, the only leader from a public body at the roundtable during the TTF, said he would provide the government with private sector feedback. Authorities, he added, are increasingly aware of the challenges facing the tourism sector and would take steps to address their concerns.
Stephan Vanden Auweele, director of group hospitality at Asset World Corporation, hopes changes are on the horizon. Based on how Thailand relaxed Test & Go requirements just a month after the program was reinstated in February, he thinks that further relaxation could be expected in weeks once data shows that the Omicron wave did not overwhelm the Thai healthcare system.
Until then, Test & Go is unlikely to increase tourist arrivals to Thailand.
Borrowing the tune from the Disney hit Frozen, Sukosol summed it up best when she sang during the panel discussion, “Let it go, let it go, don’t stress me out!”
* This article first appeared in Asia Weekly Trip.
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