Thailand Explores Travel Bubble Scheme with China and Malaysia

Thailand Explores Travel Bubble Scheme with China and Malaysia

Thailand will explore a travel bubble scheme with China and Malaysia later this month. This step was taken as part of efforts to promote a stable recovery in the tourism sector.

Ummatimes - Thai government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said the travel bubble scheme would determine the number of tourists allowed in the exchange including protocols for visas, travel and insurance. He added that China had agreed to discuss a tourist exchange.

"Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha's government will soon discuss with China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism the details of a possible bilateral travel deal. Meanwhile Thai officials are also said to be preparing to hold talks with Malaysia on a similar agreement.

The travel bubble is a scheme to open tourism gates between countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the travel bubble, tourists will not be quarantined and can enjoy special visa and accommodation arrangements. Thanakorn said countries that agreed on the travel bubble would agree on quotas for travelers and identify special zones for their movement to prevent new outbreaks of Covid.

"The prime minister believes Thailand remains an attractive tourist destination for foreign tourists even during the pandemic," Thanakorn said as quoted by the Al Jazeera website, Monday (7/2/2022). "The government has supported the recovery of tourism in a new normal that seeks a balance between the safety of travelers and the public that can become a model for tourism in the future," he added.

Chinese and Malaysian tourists accounted for more than a third of the 40 million visitors to Thailand in 2019. From that, more than US$20 billion came in from Thailand's tourism revenue.

However, tourist arrivals have slumped by around 0.5 percent last year due to weaker external demand and strict entry-to-quarantine requirements. On the other hand, Beijing has also imposed restrictions on the travel of its citizens abroad.

Thailand as Southeast Asia's tourism hub has suffered billions in lost business due to a lack of tourists from China. As is known, China has not approved any travel bubble arrangements.

The talk of the travel bubble comes a week after Thailand reactivated its Test and Go travel scheme for arrivals for vaccinated tourists from all countries. Test and Go means that if they have health insurance and they test negative for Covid-19, then they can pass quarantine.

In contrast, China requires a lengthy quarantine for most arrivals including Chinese nationals themselves. Because China has a zero-tolerance policy towards epidemics, the government is strict in screening anyone who enters the country.

Thailand is pursuing bilateral deals with the two countries to trigger a broader recovery in the tourism industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. The return of tourists from China and Malaysia is seen as key to a sustained rebound.

"We think the travel bubble will be more positive for Thailand's tourism sector than the current 'Test & Go' quarantine-free scheme, as quarantine-free schemes alone are not enough to attract tourists who have to be quarantined on their return," said an economist at Standard Chartered. Plc, Bangkok, Tim Leelahaphan.

"While the plan is a good starting point, we think a clear and robust recovery path is unlikely any time soon and will most likely occur in the second half or later of this year."

Thailand has faced an increase in new cases recently fueled by the omicron variant. The government recorded 10,000 new cases on Saturday last week, the most in three months.