Travel agents jittery over jab tours

Travel agents jittery over jab tours

More firms mulling vaccine tourism

The Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) warned outbound tour companies to be fully prepared before offering vaccination tours after seeing demand surge dramatically.

The ambiance at Suvarnabhumi international airport amid the tourism slump, as tour companies have introduced vaccination tours to boost international travel. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, TTAA president, said these types of tour programmes are possible as the Public Health and Tourism and Sports ministries have not objected to the concept, though no countries are officially promoting vaccine tourism.

Some countries have proposed vaccine tourism, he said.

On Monday, an outbound tour company posted an ad on social media offering a 10-day vaccination tour in San Francisco with a maximum price of 175,000 baht per person, including a shot of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

Mr Suthiphong said more companies in Thailand are floating the idea of vaccine tourism as the pandemic has lasted more than a year.

The TTAA asked the US embassy in Bangkok about these tours. The embassy told the group organising such trips is possible, but there is no guarantee every visitor would receive vaccination in the US.

"Many Thais asked the embassy directly about getting vaccines in the US. I would recommend interested parties contact friends, relatives or a parent company in the US to help contact related health authorities to confirm the availability of vaccines before booking a trip," he said.

"I don't think travel with tour services is suitable for the time being."

Several procedures should be prepared in advance to assure customers they will receive vaccination and can fly back home safely, such as insurance coverage and standard procedures during the trip, said Mr Suthiphong.

Preventive measures are needed during long-haul flights and while travelling in the destination country prior to inoculation, he said.

"In a meeting with 130 outbound tour operators last week, the association urged them to think profoundly about responsibility. What if the vaccines trigger allergic reactions? Have they prepared emergency plans? If tour companies are confident they have clear answers regarding safety, then they can continue with the plan," said Mr Suthiphong.

Chotechuang Soorangura, managing director of NS Travel and Tours, said the vaccine tourism concept appeals to tour companies and countries in terms of profit and reputation, but remains hard to enact in practical terms.

He acknowledged demand for vaccine tours is growing steadily, particularly among wealthy customers who are queasy about the two vaccine choices offered by the Thai government: locally produced AstraZeneca and Sinovac.

NS Travel and Tours conducted a mini-survey of existing customers and found 50% are ready for inoculation, yet 50% don't want those two types of jabs offered in Thailand.

"The price will be quite high because airfares have surged 30% during the pandemic due to limited flight frequencies. Vaccination trips are expected to take longer if inoculation requires two doses, plus the cost for 14-day alternative state quarantine upon returning to Thailand," said Mr Chotechuang.

"This means target customers must have both money and time."

He said vaccine tourism may not occur in the near future, but if the government keeps delaying the mass vaccination programme, the gap with other countries will widen. In this scenario, more Thais can be expected to explore opportunities for vaccination in another country.

The Maldives is preparing a vaccine tourism programme combined with a staycation package, said Mr Chotechuang.

This destination could be an ideal choice for many Thais as the airfare is cheaper with a shorter flight time.

"Thailand already lost a lucrative opportunity to become a hub of vaccine tourism because of slow and limited vaccine supply," he said.

"If the country lags in vaccine administration, more of the population may consider outbound trips for vaccination."


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