Following the news that Thailand will allow long-stay international tourists in the island of Phuket from October 2020 as a pilot program;
Animesh Kumar, Director of Travel and Tourism Consulting at GlobalData, a leading research and consulting company, offers his view:
“It shows that Thailand is keen on opening the other destinations as well prior to the peak season but at the same time want to be cautious. The pilot in Phuket requires international tourists to stay for a minimum of 30 days out of which, the first 14 days will be under ‘relaxed’ quarantine.
“During the 14-day quarantine, tourists are required to clear two COVID-19 tests. Reports suggest that tourists will be able to step out within a radius of one kilometer. After 14 days, they can explore the entire Phuket island. After another week, tourists will have to undergo another test and if they clear it, they will be free to travel anywhere in Thailand. From the point of view of ensuring travelers’ safety and preventing the spread of COVID-19, the plan makes a lot of sense. However, there are some challenges.
“Thailand attracts 35-40 million tourists every year but this year due to COVID-19 and the resultant travel restrictions, the number is set to contract to less than 10 million. November to March is the peak season in Thailand. Thailand attracts a high volume of tourists from neighbouring countries but typically, the length of such trips is short. Comparatively, travelers from other countries stay for a longer duration.
“However, the average length of stay in Thailand is not more than 3-5 days. This plan will work with travelers who are willing to stay in Phuket with varying degrees of restrictions for at least 21 days. That segment is not large. It must also be noted that Phuket receives higher rainfall in October compared to most other months.
“There is also a question regarding how the government plans to track the movement of tourists and ensure that tourists do not go out of one-kilometer radius during the first 14-days. GPS tracking is not very accurate and hopefully, the government does not intend to use ankle bracelets.
“One can certainly not blame Thailand, a country that relies heavily on the tourism sector, for trying. However, the duration of travel, varying degrees of restrictions, higher costs, uncertainty regarding tracking methodologies, formalities, connectivity will ensure that Thailand attracts only the most ‘determined’ travelers. The plan is a gamble, which may pay off if the initial set of tourists do not pick infection within Thailand, and if requirements are relaxed before opening other destinations.”