Thailand eyes ‘travel bubbles’ to resuscitate tourism

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand will open “travel bubbles” with countries which have comparably low coronavirus infections, officials said yesterday, as the kingdom tries to claw back money for its battered tourism sector.

The country closed its borders at the start of April, leading to millions of job losses across a tourism industry which accounts for around 20 per cent of GDP.

Despite registering the first COVID-19 case outside of China in January, Thailand has recorded just 3,129 infections with 58 deaths.

Buoyed by the low figures, tourism officials are hoping to lure back visitors from regional countries with similar levels of the virus – including China, Vietnam, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“These so-called ‘travel bubbles’ will allow people from countries who have the same level of virus to visit… without the mandatory 14-day quarantine,” said spokesman for the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration Taweesin Visanuyothin. He did not give a date for the select reopening.

Travellers would need to have complete “health checks” before and after arrival as well as valid medical insurance,

he added. However, Taweesin did not elaborate on how quickly COVID-19 tests could be carried out once visitors arrived in Thailand.

Instead, he said talks over coming days between health and tourism officials will outline the next steps.

The country is targetting “sports tourists like golfers because they stay in certain areas and have limited contact with locals… as well as businessmen and medical tourists,” he added.

The kingdom is expected to lose up to USD47 billion this year in tourist revenues, according to an HSBC Global Research note published this week, based on arrivals dropping to 14 million from 40 million last year.

The civil aviation authority, which said airports will remain closed until at least the end of June, is under intense pressure from hoteliers, conference organisers and airlines to reopen Thai airspace.

Thailand’s economy has flatlined since the virus struck, hammering tourism and exports.

Annual growth is forecast to slump by between five to seven per cent, depending how fast the country can reopen to visitors.

The kingdom will ease a curfew on June 15 as businesses creep back to life.

Entertainment venues and massage parlours, however, will remain closed.