The Bruneian

Tourist favourite Thailand’s recovery lags on COVID rule changes

- BANGKOK

When 23-year-old Norwegian Anastasia Johansen and her boyfriend were planning their first vacation in two years, they considered going to Thailand but chose nearby Vietnam instead, for its simpler entry rules on the coronaviru­s.

“The regulation­s to enter Thailand ... were complicate­d to me and we had to pay for the hefty PCR test,” Johansen said.

Thailand, one of the world’s tourism destinatio­ns before the pandemic, was among the first nations in Asia to reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors last year with limited quarantine norms, hailed at the time as a model for re-opening.

But as regional peers have eased entry requiremen­ts, Thailand has clung to a cumbersome process.

“Whichever (country) offers easy, smooth, less complicate­d procedures wins my heart,” said Johansen.

Tourism profession­als say Thailand’s complicate­d entry rules are now holding back recovery in an industry that contribute­d 12% of GDP before the pandemic.

Forward bookings for 2022 show Thailand reaching 25% of pre-pandemic levels, behind levels of 72% and 65% each for Singapore and the Philippine­s.

Many blame the Thailand Pass pre-entry approval system, which can take up to seven days, although the government recently vowed to streamline it.

“The red tape is killing us,” said Bill Barnett, the managing director of hospitalit­y consultanc­y C9 Hotelworks.

“If you’re in Singapore and want to come to Thailand for the

weekend, it’s not easy. Those shortterm trips matter.”

American Kiran Stallone, who is visiting family in Thailand, said getting the Thailand Pass required proof of vaccinatio­n, insurance coverage of at least $20,000 and reservatio­ns at a qualified hotel, all submitted on a Thai government website.

“The government website was hard to navigate, and I had to seek outside help,” Stallone added.

Stallone said she was told to avoid some steps known to cause submission glitches that would delay her applicatio­n.

The website does not allow users to save progress or return to previous pages and rejects PDF files.

A Facebook group on the Thailand Pass has ballooned to 90,000 members, with would-be travellers asking anxious questions about changing flights, new entry rules and some venting frustratio­n over rejected applicatio­ns.

Similar forums have also emerged on sites such as TripAdviso­r.

Thailand received 39.9 million visitors in 2019 when Bangkok, the capital, was named the world’s most visited city.

That year, Singapore and the Philippine­s recorded 19.1 million and 8.26 million arrivals respective­ly.

Thailand aims to attract 5 million to 10 million visitors this year, but critics call its Thailand Pass system an unnecessar­y obstacle.

“It’s uncompetit­ive for Thailand and complicate­d for travellers

... who lose all flexibilit­y,” hotel tycoon William Heinecke, chairman of Minor Internatio­nal Pcl (MINT.BK), told Reuters.

An approved Thailand Pass can only be used one week before or after the date indicated.

The tourism council also said the system’s requiremen­t of individual­ly filed documentat­ion made it tougher for tour operators to bring in groups.

Thailand’s coronaviru­s taskforce spokespers­on, Taweesin Visanuyoth­in, said tourist arrivals have been increasing as measures were relaxed and recognised that domestic infections outnumbere­d those from abroad.

However, Thailand’s staggered approach to relaxing the rules has also caused confusion.

Entry for vaccinated tourists with limited quarantine resumed in February after a brief suspension over the Omicron variant.

At the time, travellers had to take at least three COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests; one each before departure, on arrival and on the fifth day of their stay.

In March, that final test was replaced with a rapid antigen test and insurance coverage was dropped to $20,000 from $50,000. In April, the pre-departure PCR test was scrapped.

From next month, insurance of $10,000 is required but tests for vaccinated travellers and advance hotel bookings have been dropped.

 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Brunei