Tourism chiefs urge vaccine prioritisation

Tourism chiefs urge vaccine prioritisation

A nearly empty Patong Beach. Before the outbreak, Phuket welcomed 15 million tourists per year.
A nearly empty Patong Beach. Before the outbreak, Phuket welcomed 15 million tourists per year.

Tourism operators would like the government to prioritise vaccinations for people in major tourism destinations in the second phase, which is scheduled from May to December, in the hopes of restarting tourism.

Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said most locals at tourism destinations heavily reliant on international markets should get vaccinated early.

He said the number of people inoculated should be sufficient to create herd immunity in each province, ensuring the safety of both foreigners and locals.

Locations such as Phuket, Krabi, Pattaya and Hua Hin that are the backbone of the tourism industry should be pilot provinces for the vaccination programme, said Mr Vichit.

Those working in the service sector should be prioritised as the global population gets vaccinated. When tourists take outbound trips again, they may gain more confidence if locals destinations also have immunity, he said.

Mr Vichit said the Food and Drug Administration needs to hasten the approval process for more vaccines and should facilitate a more convenient approval process for private hospitals that plan to import more vaccines.

Employers who want to ensure health safety for their services by having their workers vaccinated would have more choices if they do not have to wait for government allocation.

Mr Vichit said he's not worried about the slow pace of vaccinations and insufficient distribution in Thailand as the programme requires time to ensure safety and effectiveness.

He said Thai tourism remains competitive despite trailing other countries in rolling out mass vaccination programmes, which should offer the country advantages by carefully monitoring results from other nations.

"We need a well-designed plan to receive the flow of tourists who are already inoculated," Mr Vichit said.

The association suggested the government speed up entry regulations to indicate readiness to welcome back international travellers.

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said intra-Asean travel is expected to be the first to rebound if mass vaccination programmes successfully contain the spread of infections.

He suggested the country start travel bubble agreements from July, by offering quarantine-free travel between low-risk countries in Southeast Asia such as Singapore, Vietnam and Laos, which have consistently reported low infection rates.

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