Airlines eye revival of Test & Go scheme
The Airlines Association of Thailand (AAT) hopes the government resumes the Test & Go scheme as soon as possible to support a tourism recovery.
Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth, president of the AAT and Bangkok Airways, said the Test & Go scheme proved to be highly effective in luring back international arrivals. Airlines would like to see the scheme restarted, he said.
The scheme's suspension has affected the flow of tourists as they have to choose between sandbox areas in Phuket, Krabi, Phangnga and Koh Samui, or opt for quarantine entry via Bangkok.
Mr Puttipong said the country's reopening certainly comes with risks, but the government has to make a risk assessment, such as resuming Test & Go based on the number of Covid cases and the severity of an outbreak.
He said if the fast-spreading Omicron variant can be treated similar to the seasonal flu because of its weak impact on vaccinated people and lower fatality rate, it may reduce fear and encourage people to fly.
Airlines already use several health and safety procedures, said Mr Puttipong.
"If Omicron is not deadly, domestic flights will rebound shortly, but this is not adequate to support the industry," he said. "Thai tourism needs the international market to reach full capacity."
Airlines registered strong domestic demand last December before the emergence of Omicron dented travel sentiment after the New Year holiday, said Mr Puttipong. However, there were very few cancellations compared with previous waves of infections, he said.
Regarding the 300-baht tourism fee that is expected to be included in airfares, Mr Puttipong said further discussion is needed with state agencies because aspects of the fee collection process need to be clarified.
As the aviation payment system cannot support add-ons, the government needs to increase manpower to manually verify the payment by foreign travellers, he said.
After talks with the Tourism and Sports Ministry, the time frame for fee collection is scheduled for April 1, but all parties need to be flexible and open to other options, said Mr Puttipong.
Aswin Yangkirativorn, Thai Lion Air (TLA) chief executive, said the aviation outlook for the first half remains dim because of uncertainties caused by the outbreak, particularly the suspension of Test & Go. TLA has no plans to resume international flights, said Mr Aswin.
He said the government should support domestic tourism with short-term stimulus measures, such as the "We Travel Together" hotel subsidy scheme, to revive sentiment.