DestinationsOpen up Thailand without restrictions or risk the country being left behind by competitors, say leading travel and hospitality figures.

Thailand's tourism wants to bounce back — but first it has to 'let it go'

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Industry leaders hope Thailand would soon emulate other countries to remove entry restrictions for international visitors.
Industry leaders hope Thailand would soon emulate other countries to remove entry restrictions for international visitors. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Wiphop Sathawirawong

It was an unanimous call among Thailand's leading tourism industry figures: Let it go with Test & Go.

"Thailand is at a crossroads now. There's no choice but to open up and get rid of Test & Go. We need to move our mentality from a pandemic to an endemic," said Thailand Hotels Association president Marisa Sukosol, speaking at a summit during Thailand Tourism Forum (TTF), which took place 1 March at Conrad Bangkok.

Sukosol was referring to Thailand's Test & Go programme that allows fully vaccinated tourists to enter the country with no quarantine requirements; however tourists need to get prior approval for a pass and test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival at their hotels.

Opening up the country with minimal restrictions was a consistent line among the senior travel and hospitality figures who signed a pledge during TTF 2022 to rebuild the tourism sector. Otherwise, Thailand risks being left behind as more countries around the world reopen to international visitors without a myriad of entry restrictions.

Leading industry figures jointly signed the Thailand Tourism Pledge at Thailand Tourism Leadership Summit: (from left) C9 Hotelworks' Bill Barnett; TCEB's Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya; Minor International's Bill Heinecke; Asset World Corporation's Stephan Vanden Auweele; Proud Group's Proudputh Liptapanlop; Dusit International's Boon Kwee Lim; S Hotels & Resorts' Dirk De Cuyper; Hilton Asia Pacific's Clarence Tan; and Thailand Hotel Association's Marisa Sukosol.
Leading industry figures jointly signed the Thailand Tourism Pledge at Thailand Tourism Leadership Summit: (from left) C9 Hotelworks' Bill Barnett; TCEB's Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya; Minor International's Bill Heinecke; Asset World Corporation's Stephan Vanden Auweele; Proud Group's Proudputh Liptapanlop; Dusit International's Boon Kwee Lim; S Hotels & Resorts' Dirk De Cuyper; Hilton Asia Pacific's Clarence Tan; and Thailand Hotel Association's Marisa Sukosol.

The earlier advantages that Thailand had as one of Asia Pacific's first countries to open up under the Phuket Sandbox scheme have steadily eroded as more regional countries including the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Cambodia have adopted easier entry policies.

Even though Thailand's Test & Go scheme has been simplified from 1 March, with the fifth-day RT-PCR test requirement swopped out for the rapid antigen test, the current entry rules — the need to use an online registration system and having an insurance policy with at least US$50,000 cover — still pose a significant impediment for potential visitors.

Instead, Thailand should be "benchmarking against competitors" and adopting international travel standards, said Minor Hotels International founder and chair Bill Heinecke, who recently wrote an open letter to the Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to simplify entry requirements for tourists.

Hoteliers are especially concerned that the longer the travel restrictions stay, the harder it is for Thailand's tourism sector to recover from the pandemic. The perennial issue of labour shortage is becoming more acute than ever for the tourism sector, as more skilled staff exit the travel and hospitality industries on a permanent basis.

Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau's president Chiruit Isarangkun Na Ayuthaya, the only executive hailing from a public body at the panel discussion during TTF, said he would provide feedback from the private sector to the government. The authorities, he added, are increasingly cognisant of the challenges facing the tourism sector and would take steps to address their concerns.

Asset World Corporation's chief group hospitality officer Stephan Vanden Auweele is hopeful that changes are on the horizon. Going by how Thailand has eased the Test & Go requirements barely a month after the programme was reinstated in February, he believed that that further relaxation could be expected in weeks once data shows that the Omicron wave did not overwhelm Thailand's healthcare system.

Until then, Test & Go is unlikely to grow tourist arrivals for Thailand. 

Borrowing the tune from Disney hit Frozen, Sukosol best summed it up when she sang during the panel discussion, "Let it go, let it go, don't make me stressed out anymore!" 

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