Thailand has dropped a policy announced on the weekend that tourists must show proof of having had two Covid vaccines.
Thai health minister Anutin Charnvirakul made the change on Monday, following a backlash by tourist groups such as the Phuket Tourist Association, which condemned the suddenly announced vaccination requirement.
Foreign tourism operators were enraged about having to issue refunds to customers, partly because were “already en route to airports when the new rule was announced without warning”, according to the Bangkok Post.
The association said the rule change on Saturday by Thai aviation authorities – ahead of an expected flood of visitors from China, where Covid cases have skyrocketed – would hurt the country’s tourism recovery and its image, the Post report said.
But Anutin scrapped the move, saying requiring visitors to show evidence of vaccination was inconvenient and a panel of experts had resolved that it was unnecessary as enough vaccinations had been administered globally.
Anutin, who is also a deputy prime minister, said visitors who had not been vaccinated would be granted entry without restriction.
“Showing proof of vaccination would be cumbersome and inconvenient, and so the group’s decision is that it is unnecessary,” Anutin told reporters.
Chinese tourists return
Thailand, like other countries in Southeast Asia, has been conflicted about how to manage tourist arrivals from China given the “tidal wave” of Covid cases that has spread like wildfire across its giant neighbour to the north over the past month.
Health authorities fear Chinese tourists will create a new wave of infections in the ‘Land of Smiles’, while hotels and tourism operators are clamouring for business after three years of economic desperation.
On Monday, the first flight of Chinese visitors since the pandemic arrived in Thailand, carrying an initial group of an expected 3,465 passengers on the first day, Anutin said.
One of Asia’s most popular travel destinations, Thailand is enjoying an influx of tourists during its first peak season since the removal last year of tight entry restrictions.
In November, it recorded 1.75 million visitors, four times the number the country received for the whole of last year when flights and foreign arrivals were limited.
Anutin said Thailand was now expecting 7-10 million Chinese visitors, compared to an earlier estimate of 5 million.
“This is a good sign for Thailand’s tourism sector … the country’s economy will recover rapidly. After we’ve been devastated by Covid for the last three years,” he said.
Thailand’s tourism authority is expecting arrival numbers for last year to have exceeded 11.5 million, just over a quarter of the record of nearly 40 million in pre-pandemic 2019, who spent about 1.91 trillion baht ($55.17 billion).
Thailand will still require foreigners whose next destination is a country requiring a negative pre-entry Covid-19 test to show they have health insurance covering treatment for the disease, Anutin said.
- Jim Pollard with Reuters