Phuket hopeful UK may halt quarantine for 'amber' nations
Thai tourism is hoping that a review by the UK government regarding travel regulations this week will unlock access to another big market for the Phuket sandbox scheme and help draw 93,200 British tourists this year to the island as pent-up demand is expected to be robust.
Since May, Downing Street has been following a traffic light system -- red, amber and green -- to set different entry rules for countries in three groups.
Currently, Thailand is listed as an amber country which means that British travellers flying back from the kingdom are required to quarantine at home for 10 days even if they are vaccinated, said Chiravadee Khunsub, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's (TAT) London office.
"The UK government reviews the list of countries every three weeks and the next round is expected to take place on Thursday with British travellers anticipating the government will remove compulsory quarantine for amber countries," she said.
Ms Chiravadee said vaccinated tourists in the UK are eager to travel outbound but return entry rules is making it difficult for them to plan their trips due to self-quarantine requirements for visits made to amber countries and mandatory quarantine in hotels for red countries which cost at least £1,700 (74,500 baht).
The number of direct flights from the UK to Phuket are also limited as only a few airlines such as Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines are allowing people the opportunity to travel with fewer restrictions. Meanwhile, almost all transit hubs in the Middle East are red-list countries, meaning passengers boarding from or transiting those hubs must adhere to red list rules upon arrival in the UK.
If the UK government puts Middle East countries on the amber list, more airlines such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad will be able to help stimulate travel demand from the British market.
She said pent-up demand for travel could be seen in May as trips to Portugal surged dramatically by 600%. However, after Portugal was downgraded from a green to an amber country earlier this month, British holidaymakers rushed back home earlier than expected to escape mandatory quarantine requirements for amber-list nations.
"Due to self-quarantine requirements and limited choice of airlines, tourists are reluctant to visit Phuket, even if the province has already exempted them from hotel quarantine. However, forward bookings for the winter months are looking promising as the vaccination rate should improve by then and help ease travel restrictions even further," she said.
Travel rules of the UK government are an external factor but there are uncertainties in Thailand as well that have discouraged people from taking a trip to Phuket in July.
"We had almost 3,400 Phuket packages sold when the mandatory stay on the island was still seven days but after the government increased the period back to 14 days, most people have decided to postpone their bookings to the final quarter or next year instead," Ms Chiravadee said.
At present, the number of bookings to Thailand remains small, lagging behind other tourism-led nations. The Maldives and Sri Lanka are showing strong and fast growth as there's no state of emergency in those countries. Meanwhile, for summer holidays, Spain and Greece are both amber countries and expected to be the main short-haul destinations for UK travellers.