New rules spook tourists
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New rules spook tourists

Businesses fear mass cancellations

Tourism business associations in Phuket, Phangnga and Krabi are calling on the government to relax the Covid-19 restrictions for incoming air passengers, which were abruptly announced on Saturday in response to China's decision to reopen its borders and are due to come into effect today.

International travel agencies now have to deal with the fallout of the announcement, as many travellers were forced to reschedule and/or cancel their trips outright due to the added requirements.

The associations yesterday petitioned Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to reconsider the rules, said Phumkit Raktaengam, chief adviser to the Phuket Tourism Association.

The petition was also forwarded to Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Yuthasak Supasorn, he said.

In the petition, the government is urged to at least scrap the rule which requires incoming tourists to have received at least two shots of the Covid-19 vaccine -- a requirement which international travel agencies have complained about the most.

If the government really wants to protect the public, it should only impose the requirement on tourists from nations which have yet to fully lift their Covid-19 restrictions, they said.

"As most, if not all countries in Europe, as well as Russia and Australia, have terminated their Covid-19 travel restrictions, imposing such rules on their citizens will only jeopardise Thailand's good relations [with them] and the economic recovery," he said.

Since the number of tourists has only recovered to about 70% of pre-pandemic levels, the government should rethink any plan to roll out new travel restrictions to maintain international travellers' confidence in Thailand, the associations said.

Many tour and travel agencies in the United Kingdom have complained about the abruptness with which the restrictions were announced, as many passengers were forced to reschedule their flights to meet the additional requirements, which include proof of vaccination.

Some agencies said they might end up having to refund their customers as many aren't likely to comply with the restrictions in time before they kick in today.

Others complained of the fact that the new rules were not accompanied by an announcement from the government on any of its websites.

Similar complaints were heard from tour agencies across Scandinavia, Germany, France and Russia.

Many passengers, meanwhile, are concerned that while the new requirement might be a hassle, it will likely not count as a force majeure -- meaning tour operators and travel agents won't be required to refund them if they fail to make their flight due to the added requirement.

As a result, Thailand may end up losing a large number of visitors who aren't vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the petition's summary.

After receiving the petition, Mr Phiphat said he called an urgent meeting with Mr Anutin about the possibility of reversing the restrictions.

However, TAT chief Yuthasak said the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) had decided late on Saturday to change the wording of its announcement.

As a result, travellers who do not have proof of the required Covid-19 vaccination will still be able to board a plane and travel to Thailand, he said.

He said the Ministry of Public Health's committee which proposed these Covid-19 restrictions will today discuss the possibility of relaxing these restrictions for the sake of the country's tourism industry.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, meanwhile, said the CAAT's notice about the restrictions will come into effect from 8am today and last until Jan 31.

The notice says passengers who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 must bring a doctor's certificate outlining the reasons why, or they will be denied boarding.

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