Trade group urges movement on travel bubble schemes

Trade group urges movement on travel bubble schemes

Foreign tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport during the first day of Thailand's reopening campaign last November. REUTERS
Foreign tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport during the first day of Thailand's reopening campaign last November. REUTERS

The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) says international arrivals may exceed 5 million this year if the government starts travel bubbles with Asian partners as the Test & Go scheme alone is not enough of an enticement for those who face quarantine upon their return.

Thailand should also prepare for the Saudi Arabian market after diplomatic ties between the two countries resumed, said Atta.

"Apart from the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the Tourism Authority of Thailand [TAT], travel bubbles cannot be accomplished without strong support from the Foreign Ministry. If the Foreign Ministry cannot initiate such cooperation, then the prime minister himself has to take the lead," said Atta president Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn.

He said there is an Asian country that generated almost 2 million arrivals per year in Thailand prior to the pandemic that wants to reconnect with the nation via a bubble agreement, but lukewarm feedback from Thailand had chilled the effort.

Mr Sisdivachr said travel bubbles can encourage some countries that have tightened their guard to consider this option as a way to revive business and the travel industry, saving their economies from a prolonged impact. He pointed to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China as prime targets.

Tourism operators are preparing their marketing to exclude the Chinese market until the final quarter this year as China hosts the Winter Olympic Games next month and the Asian Games in September. The top priority for Beijing is to contain any outbreak behind closed borders, said Mr Sisdivachr.

He said both Thailand and partner countries would reap economic benefits if travel bubbles are established this year.

Thailand will attract at least 5 million tourists if travel bubbles are allowed, a leap from 230,467 arrivals last year, mostly from Europe and the US, said Mr Sisdivachr.

"Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha should engage in travel agreements with other countries after his visit to Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic relations -- strained for over 30 years," he said.

Thailand welcomed 36,783 tourists from Saudi Arabia in 2019 and 4,125 tourists in 2020 despite no official diplomatic ties.

Mr Sisdivachr said given high spending power and travel demand, the Saudi market can increase tenfold to more than 300,000 tourists per year if tourism marketing campaigns resume this year.

Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT governor, said its Dubai office is preparing to resume tourism marketing campaigns in Saudi Arabia focusing on medical tourism, which accounted for 30% of arrivals in 2019.

Even without direct flights between the country pair, the two major cities in Saudi Arabia -- Riyadh and Jeddah -- have robust flight connections to aviation hubs in the Middle East for Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airlines and Etihad Airways. More convenient options are expected if direct flights from Saudia Airlines to Thailand resume as announced.

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