Thailand's reopening plan has quickly gained traction — from an initial list of 10 countries at the end of October to 63 countries as of 1 November — and travellers from the West are taking top arrival spots.
The initial list of low-risk destinations included US, UK, China, Germany and Singapore, before it was expanded to cover Malaysia, Australia, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam among other APAC countries.
According to Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the top 10 source markets in the first reopening week of 1-6 November are: US (2,465), Germany (2,334), UK (1,376), Japan (1,258), South Korea (906), Russia (905), Switzerland (838), Sweden (724), France (695), and UAE (542).
This marks a slight change from pre-pandemic 2019, where China took the top spot, alongside travellers from Eastern Europe, Israel and the US.
Under the 'Test and Go' plan, apart from proof of full vaccination, foreign travellers must take a PCR test (pre-departure and upon landing) and purchase an insurance policy with coverage no less than US$50,000, before travelling freely around Thailand, quarantine free.
After staying the first seven nights in one of the 17 Blue Zone Sandbox destinations — including Phuket, Bangkok and Krabi — foreign visitors are free to travel anywhere in the Kingdom.
Rolling out protocols, parties and packages
Barely days after Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced in late October of reopening plans, authorities already started planning a high-profile New Year’s Eve celebration, inviting Italian opera tenor Andrea Bocelli, and Thai-born Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban of K-pop girl group Blackpink to Bangkok and Phuket respectively — although the starlet has since declined the offer.
According to Thai Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, a budget of 200 million baht (US$6 million) has been set aside for the countdown parties, while health and safety protocols are being discussed for the massive events to prevent Covid outbreaks.
On the ground, hotels have already been practicing and preparing for an international reopening from the footsteps of Phuket's pioneering Sandbox programme, which kicked off in July.
For instance, apart from offering hybrid meetings for corporate travellers, Anantara is also bringing back immersive experiences such as walking with elephants in the Golden Triangle and luxury river cruises in Bangkok.
Amid a "downward trend" of infections as announced by the Center of Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), MICE events have also restarted, where more than 1,000 MICE groups, generating 250 million baht (US$7.5 million), are scheduled for October-December, according to the Bangkok Post.
Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) also announced a new surveillance zone and pilot tourism area: where crowd gathering activities can be held as appropriate and must strictly abide by public health measures.
And while reopening may have tourism and MICE players busy working out the best packages and activities to entice travellers, TAT's Deputy Governor for Policy & Planning, Numfhon Boonyawat at a recent industry webinar resounded the sustainability agenda, inviting the industry to look beyond the dollars and numbers game to make a difference to quality tourism that is responsible and ethical.