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Tourism in Thailand made a roaring return in 2022

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(Photo © 123rf.com)

As the world has recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic's three-year assault, the Tiger will hand the baton off to the Rabbit. The 2022 countdown celebration was ultimately toned down when Omicron infections quickly spread and the number of new Covid-19 cases in Thailand exceeded 20,000 in February.

The nightmare didn't last long since things seemed to be getting better a few months later. The virus infections dropped and the government relaxed restrictions so that people could enjoy the much-loved Songkran festival in public places. Although water fights, powder smearing, foam parties and the sale of alcohol were still prohibited, this opened the door for tourism to rebound in the second half of the year.

Life looks at what transpired in Thailand's tourism industry this year.

(Photo © 123rf.com)

Reopening and relaxation

As of May 1, the Test & Go travel scheme for foreign arrivals and RT-PCR testing upon arrival were discontinued as vaccinated travellers were only required to take self-antigen tests during their stay.

One month later, pubs, clubs, karaoke bars, massage parlours and other entertainment venues in the designated green zones and blue zones were allowed to resume business, but close by midnight. In an effort to boost tourism, many countries reopened their borders and simplified entry requirements. As a result, people started to travel again to ease their itchy feet.

From July 1, visitors no longer registered for Thailand Pass or Covid-19 insurance. They just showed their vaccination certificates or Covid-19 test results, while those without such proof were subjected to random antigen tests upon arrival at airports.

According to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, all 77 provinces declared green zones where business and other activities could restart. Thailand shifted to a post-pandemic state and locals were allowed to cease donning masks outside. Face masks are still important in modern times when inside, or in environments with poor ventilation.

By Oct 1, the virus was downgraded to a communicable disease under surveillance and the National Covid-19 Emergency Decree was lifted. Foreign visitors to Thailand were no longer required to show documentation of their Covid-19 vaccination or the result of an ATK test, and individuals who were infected but only had mild symptoms were no longer obliged to be isolated.

Thailand welcomed 9.78 million foreign visitors between Jan 1 and Dec 5, according to the Immigration Bureau, before the Tourism Authority of Thailand organised the "Amazing Thailand 10 Million Celebration" on Dec 10 at seven international and regional airports to mark the arrival of the 10 millionth traveller.

Bangkok will host full NYE festivities. (Photo © Iconsiam)

Life returns to normal

Capitalising on the easing of disease control rules, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration collaborated with Film Archive Thailand, Thai Film Director Association and Outdoor Cinema Association to host the Krungthep Klang Plaeng Festival throughout the entire month of July.

To entice people to leave their homes, stimulate the local economy and support the Thai film industry, Bangkok's landmarks and open spaces, both in the city's centre and outskirts, were transformed into outdoor cinemas for people of all ages. As part of the 12 Months, 12 Festivals project, this follows the successful return of Music In The Park after a two-year hiatus.

"We're working with Film Archive Thailand to select movies that match the lifestyle and environment of each location. For example, the festival's opening film -- Dang Bireley's And Young Gangsters -- was shown at Lan Khon Muang in front of City Hall, so that young viewers could observe how their neighbourhood had changed. Meanwhile, residents of the Klong Toey community enjoyed a heartwarming comedy to lift their spirits after going through difficult times," said Minrayaporn Somnongkham, secretary of the Thai Film Director Association.

In an effort to promote Thai tourism during the Apec 2022 summit, TAT staged the 16-night Vijit Chao Phraya festival last month. Bangkok's six most famous historical sites and shopping venues along the Chao Phraya River were illuminated with a series of light and sound events, projection mappings, stunning cultural performances and dazzling firework displays to celebrate Thailand's rich history and cultural legacy.

This is a joint effort between the government and private sector to support businesses that offer evening activities including boat excursions, dinner cruises, hotels and riverfront restaurants. It seems to be a starter to show that Thailand is ready to welcome visitors during the high season.

A 10-minute contemporary cultural performance with special effects at Wat Kalayanamit Woramahawihan was among the highlights. It recounted the story of the Kudi Chin neighbourhood, where Chinese shrines, Buddhist temples and Catholic churches all coexisted for many years.

Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke Bridge presented the five-minute Illumination Light Show & Effects, which used the sounds of trains, planes, boats, musical instruments and cooking to create a sense of exotic travel and local life in each place. The show was set against a background of vibrant firework displays.

A large-scale 2023 countdown celebration will return to shopping venues in downtown Bangkok. CentralWorld has poured 500 million baht into the Central World Bangkok Countdown 2023, in which K-pop star King Rain will take the stage with Thailand's leading artists like Joey Boy and famous duo Putthipong "Billkin" Assaratanakul and Krit "PP" Amnuaydechkorn.

Billing itself as the Times Square of Asia, visitors will be delighted by a 15-minute Degree Musical Fireworks Extravaganza show as the Ratchaprasong City-Scene Synchronization will broadcast the countdown celebration at Sathon, Nana, Chidlom and Asok intersections.

On the other side, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is teaming up with Iconsiam and partners to organise the New Year's Eve countdown, which will feature a display of 30,000 fireworks along a 1,400m stretch on the banks of the Chao Phraya River under the theme of "Win The World For Thailand".

Stay-at-home viewers can watch the fireworks via live streaming on Iconsiam's Facebook page as well as a virtual fireworks display on the OneSiam SuperAPP using augmented reality.

To ring in the New Year, K-pop idol Mark Tuan of GOT7 will return to Bangkok as a solo artist and share stages with such renowned Thai artists as Jetrin "Jay" Wattanasin, Potato and Waruntorn "Ink" Paonil.

Benjakitti Forest Park became a favourite spot for city dwellers. (Photo: Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

Bangkok's new green lung

Following the opening of its second and third phases earlier this year, Benjakitti Forest Park is swiftly gaining popularity among locals and families. Before it was expanded to a neighbouring 320 rai in 2016 where the former Tobacco Authority of Thailand factory was located, this park initially encompassed 130 rai and included a sizeable pond and a modest green courtyard.

It was a collective effort between the Treasury Department and the Royal Thai Army to transform the remaining tobacco factory grounds into an urban ecological forest park in celebration of the Queen Mother's 84th birthday and to educate the next generation about environmental conservation.

Now, it's home to four enormous basins in different themes -- mangrove forest; freshwater swamp; low and evergreen forest; and agroforestry and gardening. The idea is to combine a water park and forest under one roof to rejuvenate deteriorated forests.

Visitors can stroll through the labyrinth of winding trails and bridges while taking in panoramic views of verdant landscapes. The park is surrounded with a ring of bike lanes and jogging tracks that serve as barricades from busy streets. There are more than 300 varieties of plants and flowers as well as more than 50 different breeds of bird to view.

The old warehouses has been turned into indoor sports buildings, while a museum offers an interesting exhibition of the Queen Mother and the Tobacco Authority of Thailand.

TAT worked with local communities to promote carbon-neutral tourism. (Photo: Pattarawadee Saengmanee)

Sustainable tourism

In order to combat waste problems and global warming, tourists have recently become more aware of the environment and sustainable tourism. In keeping with the government's Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has taken another step towards expanding carbon-neutral tourism.

Under the concept of Adjust, Reduce and Compensate, it has collaborated with Tham Suea Community in Phetchaburi; Rimklong Homestay Community in Samut Songkhram; Rai Jai Yim Farm Stay in Kanchanaburi; Rai Khuean Rang Farm Stay in Nakhon Ratchasima; and Thai Tawee Pomelo Garden in Nakhon Pathom to create a programme of low-emission leisure activities in which visitors can learn about local life, culture and smart farming for sustainability.

All products and services are redesigned and the carbon footprint is calculated in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Part of the proceeds from the sale of services or products will go towards CSR activities. For example, a coconut sugar workshop that emits CO2 could be offset by planting five trees in a neighbourhood.

This year, Bangkok will host the full-scale countdown festivities to draw both domestic and foreign tourists. (Photo © CentralWorld)

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