Thailand delays hosting of first foreign tourists since April

Chayut Setboonsarng, Reuters

Posted at Oct 08 2020 10:24 PM

Thailand delays hosting of first foreign tourists since April 1
People wearing face masks as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are seen at a train station in Bangkok, Thailand, October 7, 2020. Athit Perawongmetha, Reuters

BANGKOK - Thailand is pushing back plans to receive its first batch of foreign tourists due to administrative issues, a senior official said on Thursday, adding to uncertainty about when it will welcome back visitors vital to its economy.

Processes involved in applying for and issuing special visas is delaying the soft reopening, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters, adding that about 100 tourists were expected to arrive this month.

Foreign arrivals stopped in April after the government banned commercial flights to keep the coronavirus at bay.

In September, the TAT said some 120 tourists on special long-stay visas would fly directly from Guangzhou to the resort island of Phuket this week, but their travel has been delayed.

Chinese media has questioned the identity of those tourists, however, with reports unable to confirm any Thailand travel bookings among agents in Guangzhou.

Operators in Phuket are also puzzled.

"We have not been notified about the arrivals," Phuket Tourism Association President, Bhummikitti Ruktaengam told Reuters.

"Phuket is ready, but we need clarity, where are they from, how many and where will they stay?" Bhummikitti said, adding that more information would help create confidence among the local community.

Authorities last month announced that a limited number of long-stay visitors would be allowed from countries deemed low risk and their trips must include two weeks of quarantine at their resort.

Thailand has just over 3,600 confirmed cases, among the lowest in Asia, but its economy could contract by a record 7.8%.

The tourism-reliant country could see just 6.7 million foreign visitors this year, the government predicts, after a record 39.8 million in 2019, whose spending made up about 11.4% of GDP, or 1.93 trillion baht ($61.88 billion).

Authorities had earlier shelved a "travel bubble" plan to allow movement of travellers between countries with low infection rates.