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The cost of reopening the country

Khao San Road was nearly empty after the relaxation of the lockdown. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

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What is the real cost for tourists when planning a trip to Thailand in the Covid-19 era?

Apart from sufficient budget for a quarantine facility, which for the most luxurious trip can be as high as 300,000 baht per person, tourists must agree to a 14-day quarantine -- which means only people who don't have time and money limits will visit the country.

According to data from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the upscale market or those earning over US$60,000 a year made up less than 20% in the past five years as officials struggled to attract high-end travellers.

Last year, when foreign tourist arrival numbers nearly hit 40 million, major revenue came from Asian tourists.

Since the strict lockdown was eased in the second quarter, the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) has repeatedly called for a shorter quarantine period or, ideally, no quarantine to attract travellers who don't want to spend two weeks in confinement for their four- or five-day trip.

The association pointed to China and Taiwan, that are considered low-risk countries.

If applied, the scheme would draw 100,000 travellers a month and help tourism with at least 5 billion baht in revenue, Atta said.

Tour operators pledged to be responsible for those tour groups to calm public concerns.

Hong Kong and Singapore recently reached agreement on a travel bubble policy, which will soon let people from those two countries travel back and forth without being quarantined.

Vichit Prakobgosol, Atta's president, said the decision is unavoidable for any tourism-led country.

Mr Vichit said local communities should accept that special international groups allowed in earlier and those applying for a special tourist visa (STV) are not enough, as the expected number is just 1,000 per month, far from the monthly figure of 3 million last year.

Last week the Public Health Ministry floated the idea to shorten the quarantine period from 14 to 10 days for visitors from low-risk countries, including China, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia.

Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia Group, said keeping borders closed is not a solution, as Thailand and most countries in Asean depend on tourism.

Testing on arrival without a 14-day quarantine is the preferred solution for post-outbreak travels.

A strong contact tracing app is also important to detect people who have been in close contact with Covid-19 patients, in case the number of cases start to flare up.

"At some point, countries have to take a little bit of risk to reopen, as we cannot live in a cave for the rest of our lives," Mr Fernandes said.

"We have to live with this virus as we have with others before like the common cold or dengue," Mr Fernandes said.

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cave : a large hole in the side of a hill or under the ground - ถ้ำ

concern : a worry - ความกังวล

confinement : when a person or animal is kept somewhere, usually by force; detention - การกักตัว

dengue : a very serious illness that you get if a mosquito infected with a particular virus bites you. Dengue fever causes fever, headaches, and pain in the joints - ไข้เลือดออก

depend on : to rely on - พึ่งพา  

float : to suggest a plan or an idea for consideration - เสนอ

luxurious : very comfortable and expensive; of the best and most expensive - ฟุ่มเฟือย, โอ่อ่า

quarter (noun): three months of the year on the official calendar of the government or companies - ไตรมาส

revenue : income from taxes or business activities - รายได้

risk : the possibility that something dangerous or unpleasant might happen - ความเสี่ยง

struggle (verb): to try hard to do something that you find very difficult - พยายาม; ต่อสู้

sufficient : enough - เพียงพอ

track : to follow the course of a moving object such as a ship, aircraft or animal using special equipment - ติดตาม, ตามรอย

unavoidable : impossible to avoid or prevent - ซึ่งไม่สามารถหลีกเลี่ยงได้

upscale (adj.): designed for or used by people who belong to a high social class or have a lot of money - มีราคาแพง (สำหรับคนมีรายได้สูง)


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