Shaking off delay, tourism ministry promises tourists this month

Despite a delay in the first batch of tourists under the special tourist visa (STV), the Tourism and Sports Ministry vows to bring in 1,200 long-stay travellers in October.

"The first two groups from China had a prospective schedule of Oct 8, but as we need to settle some entry processes, those itineraries have to be rescheduled to another date in October," said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.

After the cabinet approved the STV on Sept 15, the scheme was officially endorsed upon announcement in the Royal Gazette on Sept 29.

But since this visa type is relatively new, authorities need more time to ensure a smooth process at the originating location.

Mr Phiphat insisted that the delay would not affect the entire plan, under which Thailand is set to welcome at least 1,200 tourists. The ministry will monitor the first 30-day operation before deciding when to proceed with the next step: reducing the quarantine period to seven days.

Mr Phiphat hopes to reassure a public still wary of the reopening plan.

"International tourists coming via this scheme pose a risk at a minor level, as they have to fly in with traceable flights to designated destinations, unlike illegal border crossings, which are riskier, and we should put more efforts into preventing possible infections from those channels," he said.

Mr Phiphat acknowledged requests from the private sector, particularly by the Association of Thai Travel Agents, to shorten or remove the quarantine period to attract short-stay visitors from low-risk countries. He said it's too soon to act on that idea.

"The so-called 14-7-6 formula [for 14-day, seven-day and six-hour quarantines] is on the radar, but we need to see how it goes step by step," Mr Phiphat said. "The most important factor is that nobody in local communities will be happy to let foreign tourists visit their towns without quarantine."

He also wanted to make clear that any province hosting alternative local state quarantine (ALSQ) facilities can be a destination for long-stay travellers, not just Phuket and Samui as some reports have suggested.

Thapanee Kiatphaibool, deputy governor for tourism products and business at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said only Bangkok and Phuket can receive STV tourists in October, as tourists are required to fly into a city that has an international airport and ALSQ facilities.

"Phuket already increased the number of ALSQ facilities from three to nine hotels," Mrs Thapanee said. "But hotels in Samui are awaiting certification. So the primary destinations can only be Bangkok and Phuket for now."