Bangkok Post

CCSA panel to ap­prove visa scheme to al­low for­eign tourists into coun­try

- POST RE­PORTERS

>>A Cen­tre for Covid-19 Sit­u­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion (CCSA) meet­ing chaired by Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha to­mor­row will ap­prove a Spe­cial Tourist Visa (STV) to draw for­eign tourists, deputy gov­ern­ment spokes­woman Traisuree Tais­aranakul says.

The Min­istry of Tourism and Sports, the Min­istry of Pub­lic Health and var­i­ous other units were fully pre­pared for the STV, Ms Traisuree said.

Prior to trav­el­ling to Thai­land, for­eign vis­i­tors are re­quired to have a Covid19 test taken 72 hours be­fore de­par­ture, buy Covid-19 health in­sur­ance, and sign a let­ter of con­sent agree­ing to com­ply with the gov­ern­ment’s Covid19 mea­sures.

For­eign trav­ellers with a STV must still be quar­an­tined for 14 days, she said.

Asked about the tourism and sports min­is­ter’s idea to re­duce the quar­an­tine pe­riod for for­eign tourists to seven days, Ms Traisuree said the gov­ern­ment had not con­sid­ered the idea yet, con­firm­ing the gov­ern­ment would start with a 14-day quar­an­tine be­fore con­sid­er­ing eas­ing lock­down mea­sures grad­u­ally.

STV trav­ellers must travel by char­ter plane and every flight car­ry­ing them must re­ceive per­mis­sion from the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs or CCSA op­er­a­tion cen­tres, she said.

She said 1,200 STV trav­ellers are ex­pected to en­ter Thai­land each month af­ter the coun­try re­opens, bring­ing in more than 1.03 bil­lion baht. In one year, the num­ber of STV trav­ellers will likely reach 14,400 peo­ple, gen­er­at­ing tourism rev­enue of about 12.4 bil­lion baht for the coun­try, she said.

Mean­while, the Civil Avi­a­tion Author­ity of Thai­land (CAAT) has en­sured the en­force­ment of strin­gent avi­a­tion mea­sures in air­ports and on do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional flights dur­ing Covid-19.

CAAT stan­dard man­ager Klot Se­nalak said for­eign vis­i­tors must present es­sen­tial doc­u­ments, such as a let­ter of con­fir­ma­tion is­sued by the Thai em­bassy or con­sulate at their coun­try of ori­gin, a let­ter that con­firms their test for Covid-19, at least 72 hours prior to travel, is neg­a­tive, and they must have a US$100,000 (3 mil­lion baht) Covid-19 in­sur­ance pol­icy.

Af­ter their ar­rival, they must screen for Covid-19 symp­toms and down­load an ap­pli­ca­tion to mon­i­tor their health. A 14-day quar­an­tine is com­pul­sory for all ar­rivals, he said.

Dur­ing flights, pas­sen­gers must wear face masks at all times. Airlines must pro­vide suf­fi­cient al­co­hol-based hand gel. All cabin crew must wear per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment and rub­ber gloves through­out the jour­ney, Mr Klot said.

News­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and leaflets will not be avail­able on the plane. No prod­ucts will be sold on board, he said.

Flights shorter than 120 min­utes are pro­hib­ited from serv­ing food and bev­er­ages. Longer flights can serve items in closed con­tain­ers, he said.

With the dead­line for the es­ti­mated 150,000 stranded for­eign tourists in the king­dom to re­new their visas hav­ing passed yes­ter­day, it re­mains to be seen how many will con­tinue to stay in the coun­try ei­ther legally, hav­ing ex­tended their right to stay, or il­le­gally, fac­ing ar­rest and jail as threat­ened by the Im­mi­gra­tion Bureau. How­ever, what is not in doubt is that Thai­land’s ail­ing tourism in­dus­try, un­til re­cently es­ti­mated to con­trib­ute up to 20% of the na­tion’s GDP, can­not sur­vive on those who were able to over­come a num­ber of much-crit­i­cised hur­dles (in par­tic­u­lar, re­quir­ing a let­ter from their em­bassy) to ex­tend their stay.

Some for­eign busi­ness own­ers have also com­plained that as the pan­demic has forced them to scale down their op­er­a­tions, they too face a prob­lem re­new­ing their visas as they no longer meet re­quire­ments per­tain­ing to the em­ploy­ment of a min­i­mum num­ber of Thai na­tion­als.

Thai­land’s un­doubted suc­cess in all but elim­i­nat­ing Covid-19 in­fec­tions within its bor­ders may ul­ti­mately end up be­ing a hin­drance as much as a help when it comes to re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing this key sec­tor.

Pre­vi­ously, the Prayut chan-o-cha gov­ern­ment mulled long-stay visas un­der the so-called “Phuket model” spe­cial tourist visa (STV) scheme which, if im­ple­mented, would limit vis­i­tors to cer­tain prov­inces. While the Tourism Author­ity of Thai­land (TAT) in­sists there is high in­ter­est from over­seas tour agents, a num­ber of busi­ness op­er­a­tors still lack con­fi­dence re­gard­ing prac­ti­cal­ity.

Mean­while, the gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing short­en­ing the com­pul­sory two-week state quar­an­tine to seven days for some groups of for­eign vis­i­tors. More de­tails for this pro­posal will be avail­able this week.

As long as other strin­gent mea­sures ac­com­pany it, a shorter quar­an­tine pe­riod could be a use­ful op­tion to help this ma­jor eco­nomic sec­tor out of stag­na­tion.

Many coun­tries that also rely on the in­come gen­er­ated by tourists, and which have suf­fered far higher death tolls, such as France, Spain and Por­tu­gal, are al­ready ac­cept­ing ar­rivals based on neg­a­tive test re­sults and a two-week prior his­tory free of ex­po­sure to con­firmed cases.

Much-trum­peted ‘travel bub­bles’ with na­tions largely free of in­fec­tion have yet to emerge.

To­mor­row, the Euro­pean Union is set to an­nounce its lat­est set of guide­lines to re­ac­ti­vate tourism, which will in­clude coro­n­avirus PCR tests both at ori­gin and des­ti­na­tion, to al­low busi­nesses and cit­i­zens to fur­ther re­turn to a mod­icum of nor­mal­ity with re­gard to for­eign travel.

For Thai­land, the much-trum­peted “travel bub­bles” with na­tions largely free of in­fec­tion have yet to emerge and the only op­tions be­ing openly talked about are for med­i­cal tourists who may barely spend a baht out­side their hos­pi­tal of choice and long-term vis­i­tors whose num­bers can be ex­pected to be lim­ited.

The gov­ern­ment needs to con­sult all stake­hold­ers be­fore is­su­ing any guide­lines to en­sure prac­ti­cal­ity and ac­cep­tance. The con­stantly chang­ing guide­lines and list of des­ti­na­tions that re­quire self-iso­la­tion on re­turn have caused con­fu­sion among trav­ellers in coun­tries such as the United King­dom, and this is some­thing our gov­ern­ment must strive to avoid.

In­deed, the Im­mi­gra­tion Bureau’s hard line with the 150,000 tourist visa hold­ers may also be driven by a de­sire to crack down on those who were il­le­gally work­ing in the coun­try on tourist visas. It’s well known that the pan­demic has ef­fec­tively brought “visa runs” to an end.

The agency should, how­ever, be cau­tious when fol­low­ing up on its threats of ar­rest and jail as there may still be real tourists who have been forced stay longer in the coun­try with­out proper doc­u­men­ta­tion for tech­ni­cal rea­sons.

At the same time, im­mi­gra­tion chiefs should work closely with busi­ness op­er­a­tors to fi­nally put an end to prac­tices that have seen work­ers on the wrong type of visa put through a tor­rid few months.

Back to tourism, in or­der to restart the en­gine of this ma­jor sec­tor while a vac­cine is not avail­able, the gov­ern­ment must ex­am­ine all pos­si­bil­i­ties to keep Thai­land safe, through strin­gent mea­sures such as mask-wear­ing and so­cial dis­tanc­ing, as well ef­fec­tive screen­ing of ar­rivals.

One op­tion could be to trial short-stay visas with re­vised rules in or­der to test the coun­try’s readi­ness to tackle spo­radic out­breaks of Covid-19 as it may not be fea­si­ble to halt reg­u­lar tourism un­til a vac­cine is found.

How­ever, what­ever path the gov­ern­ment de­cides upon, the rules must be clear in ad­vance to avoid con­fu­sion.

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