Test & Go 'cumbersome', says hotel tycoon

Test & Go 'cumbersome', says hotel tycoon

Bill Heinecke says Thailand should emulate Europe and Maldives to revive tourism

Bangkok-based Minor International Plc has six resort properties in the Maldives, where company chairman Bill Heinecke says tourism has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels even without the Chinese market. (Minor International Photo)
Bangkok-based Minor International Plc has six resort properties in the Maldives, where company chairman Bill Heinecke says tourism has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels even without the Chinese market. (Minor International Photo)

Thailand should look to the example of the more liberal reopening policies of Europe and travel hot spots such as the Maldives to revive its tourism industry, says Bill Heinecke, the founder and chairman of Minor International Plc.

Current entry requirements for vaccinated foreign travellers are too “cumbersome”, the Bangkok-based billionaire said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

“If you’re vaccinated and tested you must be allowed to travel without so much paperwork,” said Mr Heinecke, who heads one of Asia’s largest hospitality, restaurant and lifestyle companies.

Tourism numbers in Thailand are “going to be tough and challenging for a while until the government changes its position”, he said.

While Thailand this month resumed its Test & Go programme, Mr Heinecke labelled the requirements — multiple Covid tests, the need to use an online registration system and having an insurance policy with at least $50,000 cover — as “cumbersome”.

“The US remained open through all this period pretty much and Europe has also handled it pretty well,” he said. “These are the bright spots — we don’t see difficulties or roadblocks stopping tourism from the rest of the world.”

A government spokesman on Saturday defended the current approach, saying the travel measures are in place to improve confidence both among local residents and foreigners, after the recent surge in Omicron cases.

“In reopening the country again this time, we have to make sure it’s safe for all,” said Anucha Burapachaisri, secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office. “These travel requirements won’t be the norm forever, but only until the outbreak situation improves.”

SET-listed Minor, which operates more than 520 hotels and resorts in 56 countries and over 2,300 casual dining and quick-service restaurants, reported a loss of 435.6 million baht in the third quarter ended Sept 30, an improvement on a loss of 5.6 billion in the same period of 2020.

The improvement was driven by a rebound of its hotel business in Europe and the Maldives, and the recovery in those markets is expected to have continued in the fourth quarter.

Most of Minor’s business in Europe is through NH Hotel Group, which it acquired in 2018. The region contributed 79% to the company’s overall hotel business revenue, versus just 3% for Thailand, Minor’s home base.

Mr Heinecke said countries in Europe, as well as island destinations such as the Maldives and popular stopover cities like Dubai, will see a stronger tourism rebound because of their governments’ more liberal approach to reopening after the pandemic, which is entering its third year and saw international travel all but cease in early 2020.

“When you look at a place like the Maldives, China was the biggest supplier of tourists,” he said. “Today it’s setting new pre-Covid highs and they’re doing that without the Chinese. Dubai is also seeing higher hotel rates. These are the places you should look at.”


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