State mulls free flights in sandbox

State mulls free flights in sandbox

Goal to entice visitors during monsoon

Cabin crew walk past a statue wearing a face mask at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok during the pandemic. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul
Cabin crew walk past a statue wearing a face mask at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok during the pandemic. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

The Tourism and Sports Ministry is considering offering free cross-provincial flights for foreign tourists after airline workers are approved for Covid-19 inoculation this week.

"From July 1, inoculated tourists exempt from quarantine might be tempted to extend their stay here after spending 10 days in Phuket if we can provide them free or discounted air tickets to other provinces," said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.

He said the ministry already discussed the plan with Bangkok Airways, the owner and operator of Samui airport, as that island has the potential to accommodate tourists.

This effort is meant to attract 100,000 foreign tourists during the first three months of Phuket's sandbox initiative, said Mr Phiphat.

As Phuket is scheduled to reopen from July, which is the monsoon season for the Andaman Sea, this offer could appeal to tourists who complete the entry procedure in Phuket, he said.

Speaking at a Thai Hotels Association meeting on Thursday, Mr Phiphat asked hoteliers to join this scheme by offering special packages to tourists who want to spend longer than 10 days in Thailand.

He said if the pairing with Samui generates revenue for nearby communities such as Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, other destinations can follow suit, such as Pattaya, close to U-tapao airport, and Chiang Mai.

Thailand set an ambitious goal to bring in another 6.4 million tourists in the final quarter this year when five more areas -- Krabi, Samui, Pattaya, Phangnga and Chiang Mai -- join the tourism sandbox, but Mr Phiphat said the plan won't be complete if Bangkok is not included.

"The six tourism provinces in the planned sandbox plus Bangkok generate 80% of tourism revenue. Bangkok should be the next destination added, with a goal to administer 20 million doses by September to ensure a safe reopening for both tourists and local communities," he said.

The plan to let inoculated tourists fly across provinces is in tandem with the vaccination programme for airline employees, which the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand announced on Tuesday.

Woranate Laprabang, chief executive of Thai Vietjet (TVJ), said the Covid-19 vaccine allotment for airlines will strengthen tourism confidence among foreign and Thai travellers.

In addition to vaccines, TVJ is engaging in the International Air Transport Association travel pass project, a travel certificate system. It expects to try the application on semi-commercial flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok in June.

Santisuk Klongchaiya, chief executive of Thai AirAsia, said the airline is ready to offer discounted prices on cross-provincial routes for guests in the tourism sandbox, if they are confident enough to visit provinces that haven't achieved herd immunity.

"We may offer free or discounted tickets, but we have to ensure tourists are confident to travel," he said.

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