In Thailand, the all-important tourism sector has jumped to the head of the vaccination queue by embarking on a mass inoculation programme for Phuket island two months ahead of the rest of the country.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said recently that Thailand is among the top-choice destinations of people who are already vaccinated and looking to travel ‒ on one condition: that they are not required to observe a mandatory quarantine.
This news came via a survey of 17,000 people conducted through TAT’s 29 branches worldwide, the Phuket News reported.
Strict 14-day quarantine requirements for overseas visitors have helped Thailand limit coronavirus infections to under 30,000 cases and 95 deaths but have proven to be too great a deterrent for most tourists.
Schemes to attract long-term tourists who test negative for the coronavirus have largely flopped, even with creative measures such as quarantine at golf resorts.
So the authorities have taken the obvious step needed to revitalise the all-important tourism sector on the country’s most popular resort island by embarking on a mass inoculation programme before the rest of the country.
Phuket aims to vaccinate most of its population of 460,000 as it gears up for July 1, when vaccinated overseas visitors will no longer be required to quarantine.
Phuket is big enough to keep tourists amused as they explore the island, and it has its own international airport. This means the authorities will likely pull up the drawbridge to the mainland, leaving the Thai population unthreatened by Covid-19.
“If we can build immunity for 70-80% of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine,” Phuket’s Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong told Reuters.
Spending by foreign tourists in Thailand accounted for 11-12% of GDP pre-pandemic. The sector has been devastated by the virus with 1.45 million jobs lost since last year.
Fewer than 7 million foreign tourists visited Thailand in 2020, spending around US$11 billion. That compares with nearly 40 million visitors in 2019, who spent US$61 billion.
The government wants to see at least 100,000 tourists come to Phuket in the third quarter.
It hopes that as vaccinations worldwide progress it will see a spike in demand in the fourth quarter and that some 6.5 million visitors will have spent US$11 billion by the end of the year.
Songklod Wongchai, an analyst at Finansia Syrus, believes Thailand could see a quick rebound in tourism, citing the example of the Maldives which has seen hotel occupancy rates bounce back to 70-80% despite cases of the virus.
“Pent-up demand may come back faster than expected. I think the Land of Smiles will start smiling again,” he said.