Tourism banking on health image
Thailand relying on reputation for safety
The new outbreak is forcing Thailand to rebuild its image as a health and safety destination again, says the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister, said the experience of last year has equipped Thai healthcare workers with the knowledge of how to deal with the virus and they have adequate medical supplies.
The situation should improve within this month as medical staff are actively testing at-risk groups in Samut Sakhon, said Mr Phiphat.
He expects local transmissions will be completely under control by February, taking two months to curb the spread this time compared with three months during the first outbreak.
The ministry is working with the Tourist Police Bureau, assigning 2,000 tourist police officers nationwide to keep an eye on operators or businesses that do not comply with the announcement from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, with an aim to apply stringent control measures in high-risk areas.
"Based on the strength of the Public Health Ministry and other state agencies responsible for security affairs, I am confident Thailand can handle the situation and regain its reputation as a safe destination for global travellers," Mr Phiphat said.
He said the country remains an attractive destination and was recently listed on CNN Travel's "21 places to go in 2021", along with the other two countries in Asia: Japan and Singapore.
This year the ministry set a goal to welcome 5-10 million international tourists, while the number of domestic trips is expected to be 100-150 million.
Mr Phiphat said the surge of new cases may slow down the initial plan to bring back foreign travellers by the Songkran holiday in April, but the ministry will try its best to attract foreign visitors by the second quarter.
Last month the government eased travel restrictions to allow citizens from 56 countries to visit Thailand without visa requirements, aiming to facilitate the process.
However, they still have to follow other health safety measures and undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.
Mr Phiphat said once the outbreak is controlled, he will discuss with the Public Health Ministry the idea of a golf quarantine as well as area quarantine packages to lure more foreign visitors.
He acknowledged operators' concerns about relaxing rules to reopen the country as other Asean destinations are already open to tourists without a mandatory quarantine. Unfortunately, the recent outbreak damaged local sentiment in terms of welcoming tourists, especially regarding less or zero quarantine days, said Mr Phiphat.
"We have to remain cautious," he said.
The flow of tourists also relies on the policies of origin markets, and whether their governments want to prioritise domestic tourism, said Mr Phiphat.