Thailand reopens: what you need to know

A tourist lies on a beach bed on Phuket island on Monday, as tourists take advantage of the "Phuket Sandbox" programme for visitors fully vaccinated against the Covid-19 coronavirus. (AFP photo)

Thailand's once-lucrative tourism sector is a shadow of its former self after months of coronavirus travel restrictions. But on Monday, the kingdom reopens its doors to vaccinated travellers from more than 40 countries.

Here's what you need to know:

Tourism, year zero

Before the pandemic struck, Thailand attracted a record high of almost 40 million visitors in 2019, with tourists flocking to its island beaches and cultural hotspots.

Travellers fell to around 7 million in 2020 after virus restrictions seized up global travel, while only around 73,000 international visitors have so far flown into Thailand in 2021.

The country saw some of the largest losses in the world in the tourism industry, with revenues dropping from $63.75 billion in 2019 to $11 billion in 2020.

The cashcow industry directly and indirectly contributes 18% of the country's economy, which contracted in 2020 by 6.1% -- its worst performance in more than two decades.

The proprietors of family-run Rajata Hotel in Bangkok’s Bang Lamphu area near Khaosan Road describe the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the business – the changes it has made to survive today, and how it hopes to cope with uncertainty in the future. (Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong and Saritdet Marukatat)

The impact reverberated across different sectors, including the restaurant industry and transportation, slashing more than 3 million jobs out of 4.03 million.

Who can come back?

Beginning Nov 1, fully vaccinated travellers from 46 countries and territories that Thailand deems "low risk" will be allowed to enter without going through quarantine.

The giants on the list are China -- which accounted for the lion's share of the kingdom's pre-pandemic visitor total -- and its territory Hong Kong, as well as the United States, Britain, and France.

A slew of other European countries are on the list too -- such as Germany, Spain and Italy -- while some Asian neighbours Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore and Japan are also included.

All travellers must have a negative Covid test before flying into Thailand, and get re-tested upon arrival.

They must also book a single night in a government-approved hotel as they wait for the test results.

What about Covid?

So far, Thailand has registered more than 1.8 million cases and 18,865 deaths -- the bulk of them detected after the highly contagious Delta variant emerged in April.

The country is still reporting about 10,000 new cases per day.

Authorities aim to have 70% of the population jabbed by the end of the year. So far, about 40% of Thais have been fully vaccinated.

Tourism outlook?

Authorities expect 1 million tourists to touch down in Thailand by March 2022.

Revenues are expected to surpass $30 billion for the whole of next year.

But many in the industry do not expect a real return to normalcy until at least 2024.

They point to China -- the biggest source of visitors -- still requiring returnees to undergo a strict quarantine, which is expected to discourage foreign travel.

The United States also still has a travel alert out for Thailand, advising Americans to avoid the country due to high Covid infection numbers.

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