BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) – Thailand to reopen more of its popular tourist destinations from next month, betting that a higher local vaccination rate against Covid-19 can help attract more foreign visitors and jumpstart a economy damaged by the pandemic.
The reopening of the capitals Bangkok and Chiang Mai, as well as the resorts of Pattaya, Cha-Am and Hua Hin, from October 1, will be inspired by an initiative to bring vaccinated tourists back to Phuket, officials said. of the Ministry of Tourism.
Other destinations, including Chiang Rai, Koh Chang and Koh Kood, could reopen fully for visitors from the middle of next month, with travel bubbles planned with neighboring countries next year, they said.
The push to end restrictions on tourists induced by the pandemic is part of Thailand’s new ‘living with Covid-19’ strategy, amid a raging epidemic that seeks to keep infections at a level that does not overwhelm its health system.
Countries, from Singapore to Indonesia and the Philippines, are tweaking their policies to deal with the endemic nature of the epidemic to protect livelihoods and prevent their economies from prolonging a slump.
For Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, boosting tourism is a key priority as it contributed about a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019, the year before the pandemic.
One of the key criteria for Thai tourist sites to waive the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated tourists is a local vaccination rate of 70%.
The resort island of Phuket became the first Thai province to achieve this goal and reopened in July, with the program expanding to neighboring islands and seaside communities last month.
Thailand said its so-called Phuket “sandbox” was successful and the program would be emulated nationwide.
More than 26,000 vaccinated travelers used the sandbox in the first two months, generating 1.6 billion baht (S $ 66 million) in tourism revenue, Phuket officials said.
Less than 1% of visitors have tested positive for the virus even though local infections have increased.
Thailand has fully vaccinated about 14% of its population, while 35% have received their first injections.
Most of the tourist destinations chosen for reopening already have vaccination rates higher than the national average and are expected to increase the level further as vaccine availability increases, health ministry officials said.