Tourists flock to Thailand when the borders reopen


BANGKOK (The Straits Times / Asia News Network): The streets of Bangkok are full of start-stop traffic and rushing crowds as Thailand concludes its first week of relaxed border controls that are lifting the quarantine for travelers from more than 60 countries and territories.

Tourist attractions, vendors and restaurants that closed for a good part of the year are now reopening their doors, cautiously optimistic for a recovery in a sector that grossed more than 1.91 trillion baht ($ 77.6 billion) in 2019.

The reopening of the nation on November 1st and the hot weather in Bangkok lured 40-year-old sports teacher Christian Schubert to escape the cold of the German autumn.

“The world has waited long enough for Covid-19 to be under control, and I have a feeling that it is finally time to travel,” said Schubert, who was just 24 hours after landing on Wednesday (Nov 3).

“It’s a good time to come before mass tourism returns.”

About 16,000 foreign arrivals have already entered Thailand via the various travel programs, which have been expanded since November 1, with most of them coming from the USA, Germany, Great Britain and Japan, the authorities said.

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

Instead, they will take a Covid-19 test upon 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 in Thailand.

Those coming from places that are not on the quarantine-free list can enter via any of the 17 “sandbox” provinces, where they can roam quarantine-free but must stay in the province for a week before moving elsewhere.

But real vacationers like Schubert will remain a rarity for the time being, those in the tourism industry told the Sunday Times.

“It’s early days. Most of the people who will be entering Thailand now are either Thais, returning residents, or travelers for practical reasons such as business travel,” said Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA).

Freelance tour guide Taweesak Sattayankarn, 70, who returned to perform his services on Monday (Nov. 1) in front of the Grand Palace and the nearby Wat Phra Kaeo temple, said most of the visitors to the area were domestic tourists.

“I haven’t seen any real foreign tourists,” Taweesak said, noting that the palace used to see around 20,000 visitors a day, but now it has around 100.

Thais and Thai residents abroad have also been eagerly awaiting the easing of border controls to avoid long quarantines when returning to Thailand.

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

“In all honesty, I think it’s a hassle going through all of the paperwork required and taking the risk of going to Thailand just for a vacation,” said Murthy.

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

In addition, Thailand’s new entry system for incoming travelers, which was introduced on November 1st, also has issues such as system errors and long waits for emails to confirm their applications, which some have complained about on social media.

The Thai authorities said they are working to improve the registration process for the Thailand Passport.

Over 65,000 people have registered for the pass since November 1, with approval already granted to more than 12,000 travelers who will be arriving in the coming weeks.

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

“The number of visitors expected in the coming months cannot be compared with the numbers before the pandemic,” said Marisa of the THA.

“But if we wait any longer, the disruption to the tourism industry is unimaginable. Many hotels, including the large ones, barely survive.”

She does not expect foreign tourist numbers to rise until December, when those from Europe want to escape the winter season and travelers familiarize themselves with Thailand’s entry requirements.

Chinese tourists, who have been the mainstay of Thailand’s inbound travelers, are also unlikely to return anytime soon, as China maintains its restrictions on foreign travel.

Last year, the number of Chinese tourists decreased by 88.6 percent compared to 2019.

Their presence is sorely missed, said 53-year-old tuk-tuk driver Prisha, who picked up many Chinese tourists along Bangkok’s Yaowarat Road, also known as Chinatown, before the pandemic.

“Locals are not interested in taking a tuk-tuk,” said Prisha, who has only one name.

Bangkok’s famous party scene in areas like Khaosan Road or Soi Cowboy, once full of music, alcohol and happiness makers, has largely been darkened after a month-long alcohol ban.

Only state-certified restaurants and restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol until 9:00 p.m. Pubs, bars and karaoke lounges will be closed until December 1st.

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

“I wish we could go back to work soon. I miss these days, “she said.

Mandatory quarantines for visitors in their country of origin or government travel warnings could also deter potential tourists to Thailand.

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

Currently, travelers entering Singapore from Thailand are required to provide a 10-day home stay notice at a special facility.

Tay, who is retired and previously worked in sales, arrived in Bangkok on November 1st and plans to stay at least 2½ months to visit other provinces.

When asked if he was concerned about contracting Covid-19 while traveling, the fully vaccinated Tay said, “Life is short, if you don’t play now, where do you find the time?”

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