Don't rush to reopen

Don't rush to reopen

In an attempt to revive tourism, the government came up with a plan to reopen the country to foreign visitors under the so-called Phuket model, which was, at best, cautiously welcomed by businesses. While the plan is worth trying, the government must pay heed to local residents' views, or the scheme could fail.

The debate heated up after Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, announced the plan to allow foreign visitors to visit Thailand on Oct 1. Phuket is set to become the pilot destination, where the scheme would be tested before it is expanded to other destinations nationwide.

Under the scheme, foreign tourists who wish to enter Phuket will have to present a Covid-19-free certificate before boarding their flight, issued no later than 48 hours prior to departure.

Upon arriving on the island, visitors will be required to undergo "villa quarantine" at a certified hotel. After 14 days, they will be tested for Covid-19 before they are allowed to move about within the province. Should the visitors wish to visit other provinces, they will be required to stay in quarantine for another seven days.

Not all experts agree with the initiative. Thira Woratanarat, a prominent physician at Chulalongkorn University, is concerned the plan could bring about a calamity as the global situation is still getting worse. He suggested the government delay reopening the country to foreign tourists for at least six months.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, however, threw his support behind the plan, saying Thailand needs to attract foreign tourists back so Thais can start earning again.

"If nothing is done, things will get worse," he said, adding more businesses will be shut down and employees will be laid off. "How can the government afford to help them all?"

The premier is not completely wrong, as inbound tourism will play a crucial role in Thailand's economic recovery. The tourism sector, along with related businesses which range from food to transport, provides incomes to millions of Thais.

According to Siam Commercial Bank's Economic Intelligence Centre, tourism revenues accounted for 18.6% of GDP last year -- of which 11.9% came from foreign tourists and 6.7% local tourists.

The government has attempted to promote domestic tourism, but the outcome has not been impressive. Despite a series of state-driven campaigns, the number of local tourists in July was 27% lower than the same period last year, according to the EIC.

Local travellers spend far less than foreign tourists too -- according to 2018 statistics, a domestic tourist spends an average of 2,866 baht per day, while foreigners spend an average of 6,039 baht a day. This is why reopening the country to foreign tourists is important.

Still, any reopening scheme -- be it the Phuket model or a travel bubble -- should not proceed with a top-down approach, or it may backfire.

Imagine the impact on Thailand's image if locals openly show signs of disgust or refuse service to foreign tourists because the country is reopened prematurely.

The lack of clarity about the Phuket model has already been blamed for a surge in hotel cancellations by local tourists, citing concerns about Covid-19.

Meanwhile, residents question the plan's virtue, saying the model would only benefit hotels and related businesses, while locals face an increased risk of infection. The government cannot afford to ignore the grassroots' view and must work with locals if it decides to reopen the country to foreign tourists.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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