Vaccination tours on the table
Tour operators have suggested arranging tours for those who want to get Covid-19 vaccinations abroad, though they are awaiting a clear set of rules and regulations before selling packages.
Thais took 10.6 million overseas trips with estimated spending of 340 billion baht in 2019, but the pandemic this year has forced outbound operators to close temporarily for almost five months.
Reports of vaccines being developed in many countries have brought new hope to operators struggling to generate revenue.
Netnapa Kaewsangtham, executive director of See You Again, an outbound tour operator based in Thailand, said the company unofficially floated the idea of outbound tours targeting customers who would like to get vaccinated and travel at the same time.
The feedback from guests was positive, as they include many elderly people who have sufficient time and high purchasing power.
"We saw pent-up demand from travellers wanting to travel abroad but who are worried about virus exposure," Mrs Netnapa said.
After discussions with overseas partners, "vaccination tours" are possible but require official approval from both Thailand and destination countries.
Thailand still lacks policies to regulate this kind of tour.
Mrs Netnapa urged related government agencies to start looking at the issue seriously, as such packages could kick-start stagnant travel demand, help Thais gain immunity and throw tour operators a lifeline.
Thai tourists prefer to get vaccinations in Europe, but the scheme would depend on the policies of the various countries, which may opt to prioritise citizens over tourists.
Spending on such trips would be 100,000 baht on average for a four- or five-day programme in Europe, 70,000 baht for a Russia trip and 60,000 baht for a Chinese trip.
Interested tourists would be responsible for their own 14-day quarantine accommodation upon returning to Thailand.
The likeliest opportunities are with China and Russia. Some tour groups from other countries have started to travel there to get vaccinations, but without official permission.
"Even though some tourists are ready to try this programme, we don't want to do things illegally," Mrs Netnapa said. "If the government has a clear direction, especially on health safety regulations, we will know whether to stop this pencil draft or continue with the plan."
If vaccinations in Thailand are eventually distributed to locals, inbound tour operators could adopt the concept by allocating a vaccine quota to international travellers who want to get vaccinated in Thailand as part of medical tourism.
Chotechuang Soorangura, associate managing director of NS Travel and Tours, said vaccination tourism is an interesting idea, but the vaccines must first be approved by the World Health Organization and destination countries must allow foreigners to get vaccinated.