Following the repeated shelving of plans to reopen the country to international tourists, Thailand's tourism reopening plan is back on the cards again, this time with the Thai government announcing that the country will now open its doors to long-stay tourists.
The last couple of weeks have plunged Thailand's tourism sector into further uncertainty as the earlier proposal to create a Phuket travel bubble model was postponed due to concerns about new Covid-19 outbreaks.
In the latest announcement, the Thai cabinet on Tuesday approved visas for foreign visitors to stay in the country for up to 270 days, under a special tourist visa scheme aimed at long-staying tourists who intend to travel around the country or access Thailand's healthcare facilities.
Traisuree Taisaranakul, deputy government spokesperson, said the visa would last for 90 days and cost 2,000 baht (US$64) but it could be extended twice, each for a further 90 days, Bangkok Post reported.
Those interested would need to apply to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), and foreign visitors who are given the special visa have to undergo a 14-day quarantine at a hospital or certified alternative state quarantine hotel upon their arrival.
The policy could start as early as next month and will begin with provinces that provide alternative state quarantine, TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.
However, these visitors must also have proof of their long-stay plans, such as paying for accommodation or evidence of ownership of condominiums, where they will stay after completing their quarantine, plus a Covid-19-free certificate and sufficient travel and health insurance.
While the latest announcement is clearly a step toward opening the country, tourism stakeholders said that the mandatory two-week quarantine has questionable appeal.
Asian Trails CEO Laurent Kuenzle believes that such long-term visas will benefit retirees, many of whom are eager to return to Thailand and will be willing to comply with the quarantine requirement.
The plan, however, "won’t save the tourism industry and will not contribute to the economy to a major extent", he stressed. "We need ‘real’ tourists to return so that the tourism industry can get back on its feet."
David Kevan of UK-based tour operator Chic Locations, after speaking to his clients who travel to Thailand each winter, also expressed skepticism if the long-stay tourist visa will appeal to them.
While this cashed-up, time-rich segment may be enticed to extend their usual Thailand stay from three weeks to four weeks, the idea of spending three months away does not appear "feasible or attractive" to them, especially in comparison with the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean destinations which have found a way to reopen with limited restrictions.
"We welcome new ideas but they have to be realistic," Kevan remarked. "As a suggestion: test visitors on arrival, have them spend the first 24 hours in quarantine in a hotel room, and then provided the test result is negative, visitors stay at least a further six nights at hotel. On the seventh day, do a further test and they will be free to travel to other provinces but with a track and trace app in place."