Thailand reopens to vaccinated tourists from over 60 nations

Beautiful Thai beach with boats and tourism staff.
In Phang Nga Bay, northeast of Phuket, locals prepare for the arrival of tourists

Tens of thousands of travellers are expected to arrive in Thailand today as the country reopens to tourists after 18 months of Covid-19 restrictions. Vaccinated tourists from more than 60 “low-risk” countries are being allowed to enter and avoid hotel quarantine.

Tourist numbers are expected to jump to as much as 15 million next year, bringing in more than $30bn (£22bn).

However, much of country still faces restrictions, with only around 42% of the population fully-vaccinated. Thailand is still registering almost 10,000 Covid-19 infections a day.

“It’s like seeing a very dim light at the end of the tunnel – we haven’t been able to work in two years,” tour guide Chaiyagorn Boonyapak told reporters. But he and his fellow tour guides haven’t been contacted by customers and tour companies yet and it could take a month until tours are back up and running again.

“We don’t know if [the government] can really open the country smoothly but I hope they can do it. We would very much love to get back to work again.” The coronavirus pandemic hammered Thailand’s economy, which would previously attract 40m tourists a year. Last year, tourist arrivals were down more than 80%.

Airports serving Bangkok and Phuket are opening first to countries including UK, China, Japan, the US and most of Europe. The Thai government predicts revenues to rebound to their pre-pandemic levels by 2023. although many industry experts say China’s ongoing border closures will hamper the sector’s recovery. Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists made up the biggest number of tourists, with 12 million visitors arriving from China in 2019.

Tourists in arrivals area
Tourists have begun arriving at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok

Wiwan Siriwasaeree owns TALES Khaosan, a small hostel in the heart of Bangkok’s famous tourist street Khaosan Road. She isn’t optimistic about the prospect of tourism rebounding to pre-pandemic levels: “I thought to myself what would I do if the situation in Khoasan doesn’t get back to the way it used to be, I’m quite fearful about that.

“We fear that after we let the tourists in and the new Covid-19 cases spike again, will we go into another lockdown? I’m not so confident about the situation,” she said. Peeti Kulsirorat, who owns a restaurant in the area, is also fearful that visitors will lead to a spike in cases: “Then the tourism industry will be blamed as the villain again. It will be the scapegoat just like the way drinking alcohol is.”

Mr Kulsirorat said ongoing restrictions – including the inability to sell alcohol in much of the country – will have a negative impact on people’s holidays: “The complete tourism experience has to come in a package of both ambience and convenience. “If they come here and many things are banned and closed, what’s the point of coming here? It will eventually slow down and people will start to get bored with all the restrictions.” Meanwhile, on the popular tourist island of Phuket, the pandemic has brought the economy to a standstill.

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