Thailand is pushing ahead with plans to reopen the country, with more destinations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin and Pattaya pencilled into the reopening list from 1 October while a full opening is scheduled from January 2022.
The latest announcements follow Thailand's earlier moves to reopen key tourist destinations under the Phuket Sandbox, Samui Plus, and 7+7 Extension programmes, which have attracted over 27,000 international travellers to the country to date, according to figures from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
While foreign tourist numbers received were limited and a significant reduction from the pre-Covid days, Best Western Hotels & Resorts Asia Managing Director Erwann Mahe still sees the recent moves and reopening announcements as positive attempts for Thailand to return to the "new normal".
"The point isn't [about the visitor numbers]; at least the Thai government had the gut to reopen the country and use the Sandbox as a case study for further reopening," he said.
"When I hear that more tourist destinations will reopen in October and that Thailand's full opening is planned for January, I can only feel positive because this is the way to go; we have to learn to live with the virus," added Mahe.
But an acceleration of the vaccination rollout in crucial for Thailand to meet its reopening targets, Mahe noted, especially as Covid infection cases still remain high in the country although numbers have come down in recent weeks.
A Covid-19 passport will also be critical to simplify travel across the country while ensuring safety for visitors, he added.
Having learnt from the Sandbox experience, travel industry heads also urge the Thai government to ease the stringent entry rules surrounding the Sandbox programme and implement consistent regulations across the country.
"The government should abolish the Certificate of Entry regulations and reduce the number of Covid tests as well as accept the cheaper antigen tests instead of PCR tests," said Laurent Kuenzle, CEO of Asian Trails.
"Less than 0.5 % of Sandbox arrivals tested positive after arrival, hence one PCR test prior to arrival and one antigen test after one week should be sufficient to mitigate the risks," he suggested.
If "complicated rules or numerous expensive tests" are kept in place, Thailand risks continuing losing tourists to destinations without such restrictions, added Kuenzle.