Thailand sees recovery in ‘COVID Passports’ for quarantine-free travel

Tourists on a chartered yacht in Krabi’s Maya Bay with our imagined COVID passport. Original photo: Phalinn Ooi / CC BY 2.0
Tourists on a chartered yacht in Krabi’s Maya Bay with our imagined COVID passport. Original photo: Phalinn Ooi / CC BY 2.0

Travelers who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 could skip quarantine upon entering Thailand under a scheme proposed by tourism officials.

The tourism authority wants to introduce “vaccine passports” that would allow visitors to avoid isolating for two weeks on arrival, which was seen as a major turn-off to its previous efforts, which failed to draw a meaningful number of travelers during the pandemic.

The passports along with all-inclusive packages are two plans floated today by Tourism Authority Gov. Yuthasak Supasorn to meet its goal of luring 10 million visitors to the kingdom this year. Tourism revenue collapsed by about 73% last year after borders were shut to contain the spread of COVID-19, falling from THB3 trillion in 2019 to just over THB800 billion last year.

Through a comprehensive set of plans dubbed the Phoenix Initiative, Yuthasak said they want to get that back up to THB1.2 trillion this year, the lion’s share of which is expected to come from domestic travel. 

But international travel would still play an important role. Of the THB812.7 billion generated last year, 41% came from abroad and 59% from domestic trips. The authority wants international travel to account for 49% of revenues making for an overall take of THB1.2 trillion this year. That would put recovery on track to reach THB2.5 trillion in 2022.

He said long-haul travelers could start arriving in April while those closer to home; such as Chinese, Japanese and South Korean tourists; would follow later as their governments are still discouraging unnecessary travel.

Yuthasak said talks are underway with industry partners such as Emirates and Qatar airlines and other tourism operators to sell various all-inclusive packages. Though he didn’t go into detail, such packages might include health insurance and vaccine certification along with the usual travel and accommodations.

Thailand will campaign for other ASEAN countries to adopt the same system for easier travel within the block without the need for quarantine.

While no international system of verifying disease immunity through recovery or vaccination seems to be in development, there has been increased interest as new travel restrictions are imposed and inoculations begin, particularly in wealthier nations.

Yuthasak said that the current outbreak could cost Thailand trillions of baht if it consumes the entire first quarter, but he is confident health officials will soon have it contained.

Health officials reported 959 new infected cases today, the highest in a day since the second-wave began last month. The vast majority of the 937 local infections were found in migrant workers in Samut Sakorn province,  the epicenter of the pandemic’s second wave.

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