'Test & Go' rumour irking operators
Change would pose imminent threat
Tourism operators are crying foul over a proposal to scrap the "Test & Go" scheme, as an immediate change would affect the international market during the high season.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) insisted no such decision has been made.
"We still have to hear from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration [CCSA] about the final decision this week. The CCSA has stated clearly it plans to listen to all stakeholders carefully before nailing down a decision," said Yuthasak Supasorn, the TAT governor.
"Thai tourism operators don't want to start over again with a mandatory quarantine," said Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA).
She said the ongoing screening measures under the reopening plan are still effective, with only a few positive tests recorded. Abrupt changes to travel rules would affect both the overall economy and the country's image, said Mrs Marisa.
For hotel operators, workers that were recently rehired risk facing unemployment again if demand is inadequate, she said.
Mrs Marisa said the Test & Go scheme should proceed as usual, but some measures could be added to ensure a higher level of safety, such as requiring a RT-PCR test within 24 or 48 hours prior to departure to Thailand, asking for a complete vaccination certificate with a booster shot, and enforcing a digital health pass in every public place.
"Phuket is really confident about the safety of the entry process we set for the sandbox programme in July. It's acceptable if the Test & Go scheme is scrapped and we only received tourists via the sandbox scheme, but we strongly disagree if tourists coming to the island have to stay in quarantine," said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association.
Mr Bhummikitti said the Test & Go scheme has provided a more productive outcome than the sandbox pilot programme introduced in July, as the number of tourists has jumped five times from 600 to 3,000 per day.
"As the vaccination rate for booster jabs already reached 80%, and the province mandates a RT-PCR test at the airport for every traveller, we are confident about our well-prepared system," he said.
Tourism businesses will be directly impacted if the government replaces the Test & Go scheme with strict quarantine measures, said Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council.
He said the sandbox scheme should be an alternative solution, which is used for the Russian market as it is not listed on the quarantine exemption list, but is still in the top five for arrivals in Thailand.
Mr Thanet said the number of tourists to Pattaya recently improved, reaching 500-700 per day, up from 200-300 last month. However, if the country maintains the sandbox programme, the impact will not be as critical as quarantine measures.
In terms of year-end bookings, forward bookings in Pattaya had already reached 70% and some hotels are fully booked during the New Year. However, operators and tourists are worried about sudden changes in the travel rules, he said.
Phisut Sae-Khu, president of THA's eastern chapter, said the international market will decrease by 30% if the Test & Go scheme is suspended and replaced by the sandbox programme as tourists feel as though they cannot roam around freely.
However, if the government reimposes quarantine measures, the situation would deteriorate as tourists would choose other destinations that offer quarantine-free entry, he said.
Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said the Test & Go scheme has helped to attract more travellers -- now 300-500 per day -- to the island, compared with the early stage of reopening, when the rate was in the single digits.
The suspension of Test & Go would put the brakes on the current momentum because of the challenge with direct flights, as Koh Samui does not have sufficient air connectivity if it depends solely on the sandbox programme, he said.