By Jiraporn Kuhakan
BANGKOK – Thailand held a dry-run on Wednesday for its long-awaited, quarantine-free reopening to vaccinated travellers, as the country rushes to reboot an industry battered by an 18-month hiatus in international tourism.
At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand’s main gateway, airport staff and health and immigration officials ran a simulation of the arrival of a plane full of visitors, to test out electronic screening measures.
“All the passengers will get their QR code checked by the Department of Disease Control,” said Kittipong Kittikachorn, the airport’s general manager.
“It will include all the details about insurance, vaccine certificate, or hotel booking.”
While tourism has been decimated in many countries, the impact in Thailand has been particularly severe, with authorities targeting just 100,000 arrivals this year, compared with nearly 40 million in 2019. Since July, Phuket and Samui islands have been reopened in pilot projects.
Among the Asia-Pacific’s most visited countries, Thailand has lost about 3 million tourism-dependent jobs and an estimated $50 billion a year in revenue due to COVID-19.
The slowdown, however, was not entirely due to weak demand, but also Thailand’s tight restrictions, which included 14-day hotel quarantine requirements, COVID-19 tests and health insurance coverage of up to $100,000
From Nov. 1, vaccinated visitors from eligible countries, including Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Australia, China, Japan and Singapore, will be allowed to skip quarantine, providing they have negative COVID-19 tests.
Bangkok’s normally bustling airport has seen a dramatic reduction in flights, but Kittipong said he was optimistic there would soon be a steady pickup in traffic.
“We can see an increase in flight bookings,” he said.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Christina Fincher)