The Thai hotel operators are urging the government to scrap quarantine requirements for foreign tourists vaccinated against the coronavirus in an effort to kick-start the crippled industry.
Two leading hotel groups told the The Washington City Times that they were in favor of ending the mandatory 14-day quarantine for non-Thai visitors who could prove they had been vaccinated.
“We should allow people who are safely vaccinated to travel very quickly without quarantine,” said William Heinecke, president of Minor International, Thailand’s largest publicly traded hotel and hospitality group. “There are a lot of people who are not coming to Thailand or not to a country that has been quarantined because it takes too much time.”
Tourism is Thailand’s second largest industry, accounting for about a fifth of its gross domestic product. The country sealed its borders to most foreign visitors last March and imposed strict testing and quarantine requirements on those who wanted to enter.
“Current quarantine restrictions are paralyzing our industry and having a huge impact on the Thai economy,” said Suphajee Suthumpun, CEO of Dusit International, another Bangkok-listed hotel group. “With foreign tourists accounting for about 70 percent of the total industry, and with tourism accounting for about 22 percent of GDP, it is clear that we need to open borders to vaccinated travelers as soon as possible.”
Ms. Suphajee said workers in the Thai hospitality industry should receive priority vaccination. “This would also protect locals and travelers and reduce the risk of infection,” she said.
The pandemic has drained some of Thailand’s best-known attractions, from the Andaman Sea Islands in the south to Chiang Mai in the north, with government subsidies for Thai hotel stays being just part of the industry’s losses.
Thailand tried last year to lure long-term foreign visitors, such as retirees willing to undergo rigorous testing and quarantine requirements – but few came. The number of international visitors dropped to about 6.8 million last year, from a record 40 million in 2019.
Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the hotel owner’s proposal had been sent to the government. “I believe they are considering it very carefully now,” he said. “I think it’s a very good sign.”
Thailand has weathered the pandemic better than most other countries of its size, with about 13,000 cases and 71 deaths. However, according to the World Bank, GDP contracted by 6.5 percent last year.
The government is increasingly criticizing the pace and design of the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines domestically. Authorities said last week that they would accuse Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the opposition’s leading politician, of insulting the monarchy after questioning the dominant role in vaccine production at Siam Bioscience, a company of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Siam Bioscience makes the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, which health officials say will be available by mid-year. Imported vaccines made by Sinovac from China are expected in February.
“Even if we have not yet vaccinated our population, we must somehow admit safe travelers who have been vaccinated,” said Mr. Heinecke.
Follow on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites
Latest news about the coronavirus
Follow The Washington City Times’s live coverage and analysis of the global pandemic and rapidly evolving economic crisis here.