China STVs exempt from ban
The Chinese government's ban on outbound tour groups will not affect those who apply for a special tourism visa (STV), says a key official.
China decided to prolong the suspension of outbound and inbound tours this winter to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after authorities imposed travel restrictions since January.
"Tourists who apply for STVs can continue their journeys despite those bans, as the order is restricted to tour groups only," said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister.
But the ministry will send a convincing message to Chinese officials once again about stringent health and safety measures for tourists under the STV scheme, aiming to assure them that tourists will not be exposed to virus risk while travelling in Thailand.
Mr Phiphat said locations for STV tourists are not confined to Bangkok. Guests can choose any province that hosts alternative local state quarantine (ALSQ), subject to flight availability.
Mr Phiphat's remarks were in response to a report about Russian and European tourists who booked ALSQ hotels in Pattaya but were blocked from organising flights to Thailand after authorities told them they were only allowed to quarantine in Bangkok and surrounding areas.
"I've cleared up some misunderstanding among the government agencies and want to insist that the status of ALSQ in provinces is equal to that of ASQ [Alternative State Quarantine] in Bangkok," Mr Phiphat said.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says its overseas offices are receiving more requests from tourists to come to Thailand.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, deputy governor of marketing for Asia and South Pacific at the TAT, said at least 13 tourists from Hong Kong have been approved for STVs.
As of Oct 22, 13 tourists from Shenzhen, two from Singapore, 118 from Shanghai and 147 from Guangzhou had submitted requests to the agency, but they still must clear the visa application process and make flight arrangements.
Mr Chattan said that if demand is sufficient from STV tourists, Consular Affairs will allow airlines to conduct more semi-commercial flights, meaning carriers must bring only foreign arrivals who have received a Certificate of Entry (not including for repatriation purposes).
Besides the 14-day quarantine upon arrival, another factor discouraging international tourists from taking outbound trips is the second quarantine back home when they return.
"Tourists from some countries, such as South Korea, face a compulsory quarantine in their hometown, so it means they have to spare at least 28 days being kept in isolation," Mr Chattan said.
He said that while mass tourism is on hold in Thailand, the TAT has joined a promotion with Alipay, the top online payment platform in China, to help hotels in Thailand sell advance rooms for next year.
The discount price with flexible dates and cancellation will accelerate tourists' decision-making, while hotels will have more liquidity during a difficult time, Mr Chattan said.