Thailand Drops Test Requirements Just as It Plans to Woo Indian Tourists

Thailand will scrap its “Test and Go” requirement for vaccinated travelers from May 1, a further relaxation of travel requirements as it aims to reinvigorate its tourism economy which is ranked as the strongest in Southeast Asia.

However, it does not remove all rules. Visitors will still need to register for a “Thailand Pass”, but the medical insurance policy has now been reduced from $20,000 to $10,000.

Determined to remove travel requirements that act as a deterrent, Thailand is keen to appeal to travelers from India, one of its main source markets. In 2019, nearly two million Indian tourists visited the kingdom, generating $2.5 billion in revenue.

All Southeast Asian countries will now pursue the same source markets, and India is the primary target, said Gary Bowerman, director of Check-in Asia, a travel research and intelligence firm focused on Asia.

“It would be important to ensure sufficient air services and frequencies from metropolitan cities and second-tier Indian cities – something Singapore, for example, managed to achieve before the pandemic,” Bowerman said.

In sync with the “Visit Thailand Year 2022: Amazing New Chapters” marketing campaign, Cholada Siddhivarn, office manager of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in Mumbai, said Thailand intends to focus on rebuilding the Indian market with particular emphasis on special interest groups. with high expenses.

“These include weddings and honeymoons, golf, millennials and luxury travelers,” he said.

Apart from familiarization trips for travel agents, wedding planners and corporates, TAT will also lead the Thai presence at India’s biggest tourism promotion event – South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange in May.

“Amazing Thailand Wedding Expo will be held in Mumbai and New Delhi for the first time in May this year,” Siddhivarn said. “Given the number of scheduled flights announced by airlines this month, we hope to welcome 500,000 Indians to Thailand this year.”

Being a favored destination among Indians, it may not be too difficult for Thailand to attract this number. Given its proximity and access, easy visa regime and diversity of locations and experiences, Thailand is a top choice across all travel segments, said Vishal Suri, managing director of SOTC Travel.

Thailand offers a perfect price for every wallet share – whether it’s a value customer or India’s luxury segment, Suri said, adding that the announcement couldn’t have happened to a better time, coinciding with India’s peak outbound travel season.

On the visa fee waiver policy that Thailand introduced pre-Covid for Indians, TAT’s Siddhivarn said Indians might have to wait for some time as the restrictions have just been lifted.

What about China and other markets?

However, the Chinese market, which accounted for 28% of arrivals in 2019 (12 million), remains irreplaceable for Thailand, according to Check-in Asia’s Bowerman.

“As multiple airlines offered routes to cities across China, this generated strong demand year-round,” Bowerman said.

It is therefore not surprising that Thai tourism officials are often quoted in the media that tour groups from China may be allowed to visit during Golden Week in October 2022.

At a time when airline balance sheets are fragile, jet fuel costs are volatile and travel booking demand is still uncertain, Bowerman said the big challenge for destinations to diversify their market mix is ​​air connectivity. .

“Airlines need to be confident that returns will be sustainable in the short to medium term,” he said.

In addition to India, Thailand will look to reliable regional markets like Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, and try to increase arrivals from major source markets in Southeast Asia. such as Vietnam and Indonesia. The kingdom will also try to attract flights from carriers with the means to identify new opportunities, such as Qantas and carriers in the Middle East.

The tourism industry breathes a sigh of relief

Although the country canceled pre-departure Covid testing from April 1, incoming tourists still had to complete a plethora of requirements before reaching Thailand.

Stakeholders in the tourism industry had called on the Thai government to cancel the mandatory Thailand Pass pre-approval system, insurance requirements and all post-arrival testing. They had argued that a vaccination certificate or an immunity certificate should be sufficient to enter.

In what could rightly be called a sign of changing times, William Ellwood Heinecke, president of the hotel chain International Minor, had written to the Prime Minister of Thailand last week urging him to abandon the Thai Pass. In 2020, Heinecke had written to the prime minister asking for a full lockdown.

“The Thailand Pass and post-arrival Covid testing requirements are futile and ineffective,” Heinecke said in his letter.

Comparing arrival numbers, Heinecke mentioned that the 11,623 daily international arrivals at Suvarnabhumi Airport is only a fraction of the daily average of more than 50,000 people in April 2019.

“It was a great relief for the Thai tourism sector, when the government announced the lifting of the polymerase chain reaction test to enter the country from May 1,” said Claude Sauter, managing director of Slate Phuket.

Most stakeholders expected the Test & Go program to be scrapped later in July, according to Sauter. As countries in the region reopen to tourists, he appreciated that the government has listened to the voice of reason.

“It’s still early to see an increase in bookings, plus Phuket is entering its traditional lowest months of the year (May and June),” Sauter said.

“The Chinese market, which usually helps a lot in May, will not be there this year. We expect July and August to do well with markets in the Middle East, Europeans, US and Australians, but also regional (Singapore, Malaysia and India).