Foreign tourists who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to visit six tourism provinces beginning next month.
Those who have been inoculated must still be quarantined. However, the mandatory isolation period has been reduced from 14 to seven days for them.
In July, Phuket will be the first province to waive the quarantine requirement for foreign visitors who have been vaccinated, as part of the government's plan to reopen the country.
Minister of Tourism and Sport Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn on Friday said the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, approved a three-stage roadmap to reopen six major tourism provinces -- Phuket, Krabi, Phangnga, Surat Thani (Koh Samui), Chon Buri (Pattaya) and Chiang Mai -- to vaccinated foreign visitors.
From April to June, inoculated foreign visitors arriving in these provinces will only be required to undergo quarantine in hotels or other designated facilities for seven days, he said.
From July to September, vaccinated tourists can visit Phuket without having to undergo quarantine under the so-called "Phuket Tourism Sandbox" programme, which is touted as a model for the reopening of the kingdom's tourism industry, Mr Phiphat said.
Despite the quarantine waiver, the travel activities of tourists will be restricted to "sealed routes" on Phuket for seven days before they are allowed to visit other locations, he said. Tourists are still required to use contact tracing apps, Mr Phiphat added.
He said that between October and December, Phuket's sandbox model will be applied to five other tourism provinces. A full reopening of the country is expected to take place in January, Mr Phiphat said.
"CESA approved in the reopening plan in principle to allow foreign tourists who have received two vaccine doses to visit Phuket from July 1 without having to undergo quarantine, as proposed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand," Mr Phiphat said.
"The TAT will have to discuss the matter with the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the cabinet next week," he said. "Phuket will be the first and only province which will be exempted from quarantine from July 1."
TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the plan to reopen these tourism provinces needs the support of local residents and the TAT will have to present details of where tourists would be allowed to visit for consideration by the CCSA next week.
"Phuket is better-equipped to serve as the sandbox model to accommodate tourists first as the government will expedite the two-dose vaccination [process] for at least 70% of the population in Phuket before July 1," Mr Yuthasak said.
About 100,000 foreign tourists are expected to arrive in Phuket between April and June and more foreign arrivals are expected from July onward, he said.
In total, about 6.5 million foreign visitors are expected to arrive this year after the reopening of the country, Mr Yuthasak said, adding that an early reopening for vaccinated foreign tourists will help with a quick economic recovery.
According to the sandbox proposal, the reopening plan in Phuket will depend largely on vaccine allocation to the tourist island province. Herd immunity must be achieved by inoculating 70% of the population before foreign visitors are allowed in by the reopening date.
Under the proposal, at least 466,587 residents living on Phuket island need to receive two doses each. The proposal aims to secure 933,174 doses.
To reach the herd immunity goal within a specific time frame, the first round of inoculations should start on April 15, while the second should be rolled out from May 15.
Under the plan, tourists who want to join the proposed quarantine-free programme are required to show a vaccine certificate, vaccine passport or International Air Transport Association (IATA) travel pass.
Meanwhile, Pattaya mayor Sonthaya Khunpluem said that the city has asked the government for additional doses of Covid-19 vaccines to prepare for reopening on Oct 1.
The request was made at a meeting between Mr Phiphat and members of the local private sector to discuss marketing strategies to promote tourism in Pattaya.
Currently, Pattaya has a quota of 864,386 doses, but about 135,000 more doses will be needed for nearby municipalities which support tourism in Pattaya, Mr Sonthaya said.