BANGKOK: Fully vaccinated travelers from any country can now book a vacation in tourism paradise Phuket, the Thai government has said, as part of a struggling quarantine-free travel program.
Thailand’s tourism industry is on its knees as the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions have reduced the number of visitors from 40 million in 2019 to a mere trickle over the past two years.
Before the virus, the sector accounted for one-fifth of Thailand’s national income, and travel restrictions have contributed to the country’s worst economic performance for more than two decades.
The kingdom launched a “sandbox” program in July, which allowed fully vaccinated travelers from countries considered to be at low to medium risk to roam freely around the popular seaside island for a fortnight and then to retreat. return to the mainland without quarantine.
Thailand abolishes quarantine for vaccinated tourists
Authorities last week reduced the required stay to one week, in line with national changes to quarantine rules.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand announced Friday evening that the program had been expanded to some 80 countries already eligible.
“This means Thailand is now welcoming travelers from any country in the world into the sandbox program,” he said in a statement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanee Sangrat said unvaccinated children could travel with their vaccinated parents.
The sandbox program has already drawn more than 38,000 visitors to the white sands of Phuket and generated $ 66.67 million.
But tourist operators are lukewarm about reviving the island’s economy, where 90% of hotels have been closed.
They begged the government to simplify entry requirements to increase the number of visitors.
The changes will allow previously excluded Indonesians and Malaysians to travel to Phuket.
Before the pandemic, Malaysia was the second-largest source of tourists to Thailand, with more than four million travelers visiting in 2019.
Authorities in Thailand hope to reopen five more destinations, including the capital Bangkok, using the sandbox model from early November, followed by 20 more destinations in December once vaccination rates rise.
However, travel advice from other countries discouraging potential tourists could hamper Thailand’s plans to revive the industry.
Britain and the United States have issued travel warnings as the country grapples with a deadly third wave of the virus and low vaccination rates.
The number of new daily cases hovers around 11,000, after peaking at 23,000 in August – but testing levels have also declined.