By Chayut Setboonsarng
BANGKOK, Aug 6 – Thailand has delayed plans for a “travel bubble” agreement with select countries as new daily coronavirus cases rise in parts of Asia, putting pressure on its vital tourism industry and complicating efforts to revive its battered economy.
Thailand first proposed the idea in June to allow movement between select countries that have low infection numbers, without the need for travellers to undergo quarantine.
But that has been shelved, officials said, amid second and third waves in East Asian countries that previously had their outbreaks under control.
“We are delaying discussion of travel bubble arrangements for now given the outbreak situation in other countries,” Thailand’s coronavirus taskforce spokesman, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, told Reuters.
Despite more than two months without confirmed local transmission and recording only 3,300 cases, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is facing its worst crisis in several decades.
Foreign arrivals plunged 66% in the first six months of the year, to 6.69 million. The industry has warned that 1.6 trillion baht ($51.50 billion) of revenue could be wiped out this year.
By comparison, Thailand had a record 39.8 million tourists in all of 2019, spending 1.93 trillion baht.
“Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea were among those considered (for a travel bubble) because those areas had a low number of cases, but now they were in double-digits so discussions were put on hold,” Taweesin said, referring to new daily infections.
Reviving talks would depend on the situation in each country, which the taskforce was assessing daily, he said, adding that was a widely accepted industry view.
The island of Phuket has instead proposed receiving direct flights from those countries, with tourists and business executives doing two-week quarantines in their hotels before going out.
“We are asking for travel, charter flights, into Phuket,” Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, told Reuters.
Although demand for long stays would be lower, it would be a start, with occupancy of 40% to 50% sufficient for hotels to survive and avert job losses, Bhummikitti added. ($1 = 31.0700 baht) (Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty)