Thailand reopens for tourism
Deccan Chronicle.| Lekha Shankar
Indian visitors represent our hope for recovery, says official
The Test and Go system of entry had been launched in Thailand on November 1 last year vis--vis 61 handpicked countries including India.
Thailand reopened for tourism again on February 1, and restarted its system of Test and Go entry. More than 2,500 passengers from 46 international flights poured into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on the first day.
According to Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), more than 25,000 tourists applied for the Test and Go entry on the first day.
The Test and Go system of entry had been launched in Thailand on November 1 last year vis-à-vis 61 handpicked countries including India. But it was abruptly stopped on December 22 with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, leading to much confusion, disappointment and cancellations among many tourists, including Indians.
"Resumption of the Test and Go is a positive sign which, I hope, will lead to the resumption of regular commercial travel in the 75th year of Indo-Thai relations," stated former Thai ambassador to India Chutintorn Gongsakdi.
Indeed, India and Thailand celebrate their 75th year of diplomatic relations this year and that’s probably why the Thai government is seriously considering a travel bubble with India so that commercial flights would restart and bilateral tourism could be promoted.
Former Indian ambassador to Thailand and currently foreign secretary Harsh Shringla, too, expressed happiness at this development, which he felt would restore India’s vibrant cooperation with Thailand both at the business level and at the level of people. He was particularly proud of India’s phenomenal vaccination record.
While most people agree that the resumption of commercial flights between the two countries is vitally needed to improve bilateral tourism, the resumption of the Test and Go system of entry is seen as a positive beginning.
With Thailand moving up 18 places in Bloomberg’s latest Covid resiliency ranking, this is part of the Thai Prime Minister’s strategy of "Living with Covid", in order to rescue the country’s pandemic-battered economy. That’s why Thailand has now opened out to all the countries around the world, as long as the incoming tourists have a double vaccination certificate.
With India having completed more than 70 per cent of double vaccinations for their adults, some of the leading Indian travel agents feel that the boom for Thailand will start soon.
"The influx to Thailand will increase in double quick time," said Atanu Das, of 5D Global Travel Solutions Pvt Ltd, who specialise in the MICE market (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions, Exhibitions). He adds, "Irrespective of Omicron, Indian tourists will always have an enormous urge to visit Thailand."
Agreeing with him was Kunal Sampat of Shree Siddhivinayak Travels & Tours Pvt Ltd, "There will definitely be a high interest level from the Indian market for anything introduced by Thailand, as it has always been one of the most sought-after destinations by Indian travellers."
He described the "land of smiles" as "a destination for the masses and the classes". This writer noticed during a flight from Delhi to Bangkok in January that the nearly full flight had many Indian tourists although Omicron was at its height in the Indian capital. With renewed interest in the Indian tourist market, the TAT offices in Mumbai and Delhi started an online Thailand specialist training programme to update the Indian travel agents on the latest rules and regulations to travel to Thailand as also the many new programmes and attractions in different parts of the country.
"Thailand is one of the favourite destinations for Indian tourists, and through this programme, they can update themselves on both the popular and upcoming products and services in various destinations across the kingdom," said Vachirachai Sirisumpan, director of TAT’s New Delhi office.
The Thai Prime Minister has gone on record to promote "soft culture" after Covid. This includes health and wellness packages which is why beach-destinations like Huahin, three hours from Bangkok, have now come under the limelight.
"I’m sure the Indian tourists are waiting to travel again to Thailand," stated Cholada Siddhivarn, director of TAT’s Mumbai office. She informed that more than 5,000 Indian tourists had visited Thailand when Test and Go entry was first announced on November 1. "Since then, the changing rules have really confused them, we got so many enquiries, and now we are happy to welcome them back to Thailand again!" she declared.
So what are the new rules and regulations to enter Thailand? One finds that they are tourism-friendly, but also an amalgam of safety and caution. The Thailand pass is the most important certificate of entry into Thailand, and for this, the documents needed are a double-vaccination certificate, an insurance policy of $50,000, including Covid treatment, and a confirmed booking in a SHA+ hotel (there are several hundreds, as listed on their site) on the first and fifth days, when RTPCR tests should be done. That means two RTPCR tests should be done, on the first and fifth days, and the tourist must stay in a SHA+ hotel, until the result is known.
The hotels do not have to be the same, and need not be in the same city. Once they have all these documents, the tourist can apply for a Thailand pass (https://tp.consular.go.th). This will be issued in three to seven days. It’s important that their date of travel must be at least seven days after applying for the Thailand pass, because they need to carry the document along with them.
As for the tourist visa, they could get an e-visa from VFS. Or, they could get a visa on arrival in Thailand (it costs 2,000 B).
In case the tourist stays fewer than five days, he needs to do only one RTPCR test on the first day, but needs to show his return ticket when he applies for the Thailand pass.
If the tourist tests positive, during any of the RTPCR tests, he needs to quarantine in the booked hotel or the hospital attached to it, the payment of which will be covered by his insurance policy.
Lastly, as for most international flights, an RTPCR test needs to be done 72 hours prior to their departure to Thailand.
Meanwhile, Phuket, and other beach destinations like Krabi, Samui and Chonburi, etc., are open to tourists both for the Test and Go, and sandbox entries.
By the sandbox rules, the tourist must stay seven days on the island, do an RTPCR test on the first and fifth days and then is free to travel to any other part of Thailand, or to return to their homeland.
But this only applies to tourists who fly directly to Phuket or book "sealed" flights from Bangkok to Phuket.
Indian tourists can’t avail of this at the moment, as there are no direct flights to Phuket from India. But direct flights to Phuket are expected to start from Mumbai, shortly.
With the lack of tourists from China, the India tourist market has become very important to Thailand.
"Indian visitors represent Thailand’s hope for the recovery of tourism," said Somsong Sachaphimukh, vice-president of the Tourism Council of Thailand and the Indo-Thai Chamber of Commerce. She also manages Express International Travels that handles the bulk of Indian tourist bookings.
She informed that when Test and Go entry was started in November, more than 40 per cent of the Indians who visited Thailand were tourists.
It’s estimated that more than 1.9 million Indian tourists came to Thailand in 2019, generating 80 million baht.
"They’re a high-value tourism market," stated Somsong Sachaphimukh, simply.
For more info, please check https://www.tatnews.org.