After a great deal of will they or won't they, Thailand has finally decided to simplify travel for visitors. But in the absence of some of its most important source markets, like China and Russia, the country has its sights set on Indian tourists.
Thailand will scrap its “Test and Go” requirement for vaccinated travelers from May 1, a further loosening of travel requirements as it aims to re-energize its tourism economy that once ranked as the strongest in Southeast Asia.
It isn’t dropping all rules, however. Visitors will still be required to register for a “Thailand Pass” but the medical insurance policy coverage has now been reduced from $20,000 to $10,000.
Determined as it is to remove travel requirements that act as deterrents, Thailand is keen to woo the Indian travelers — one of its biggest source markets. In 2019, almost two million Indian tourists visited the kingdom, generating $2.5 billion in revenue.
All countries in Southeast Asia will be chasing the same source markets now, and India is the primary target, said Gary Bowerman, director of Check-in Asia, an Asia-focused travel intelligence and research firm.
“It would be important to secure sufficient air services and frequencies from the metro cities and second-tier Indian cities — which is something Singapore, for example, worked successfully to achieve before the pandemic,” Bowerman said.
In sync with the “Visit Thailand Year 2022: Amazing New Chapters” marketing campaign, Cholada Siddhivarn, director of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Mumbai office, said Thailand intends to focus on rebuilding the Indian market with a particular emphasis on special interest groups with high spending.
“These include weddings and honeymoons, golf, millennials, and luxury travelers,” she said.
Other than familiarisation trips for travel agents, wedding planners and corporates, TAT will also head up the Thailand presence at India’s largest tourism promotion event — South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange in May.
“Amazing Thailand Wedding Expo will be held for the first time in Mumbai and New Delhi in May this year,” Siddhivarn said. “Considering the number of schedule flights which airlines have announced this month, we hope to welcome 500,000 Indians in Thailand this year.”
Being a favored destination among Indians, it may not be too difficult for Thailand to bring in that number. Given its close proximity and access, easy visa regime and diversity of locales and experiences, Thailand is a top pick across all travel segments, said Vishal Suri, managing director of SOTC Travel.
Thailand offers a perfect price point across every share of wallet — be it a value customer or India’s uber luxury segment, said Suri, adding that the announcement could not have come at a better time, coinciding with India’s peak outbound travel season.
On the visa fee-waiver policy that Thailand had introduced before Covid for Indians, TAT’s Siddhivarn said Indians may have to wait for some time as the restrictions have just been lifted.
What About China and Other Markets?
However, the China market that accounted for 28 percent of arrivals in 2019 (12 million) continues to remain irreplaceable for Thailand, according to Check-in Asia’s Bowerman.
“As several airlines offered connections to cities across China this delivered strong year-round demand,” Bowerman said.
It’s therefore no surprise that Thai tourism officials are often quoted in the media saying that tour groups from China could be permitted to visit during the 2022 October Golden Week.
At a time when airline balance sheets are fragile, jet fuel costs are volatile and demand for travel booking is still uncertain, Bowerman said the big challenge for destinations to diversify their market spread is air connectivity.
“Airlines need to be certain that yields will be viable in the short and mid-term,” he said.
“In addition to India, Thailand will look to reliable regional markets like Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan, and try to grow arrivals from large South East Asia outbound markets like Vietnam and Indonesia. The kingdom will also attempt to attract flights from carriers with the means to identify new opportunities, like Qantas and the Middle Eastern carriers.”
Tourism Industry Heaves a Sigh of Relief
Depiste the country cancelling pre-departure Covid testing from April 1, inbound tourists were still required to fulfil a plethora of requirements before reaching Thailand.
Tourism industry stakeholders had been requesting the Thai government to cancel the mandatory Thailand Pass pre-approval system, insurance requirements and any post-arrival tests. They had argued that a vaccine certificate or a certificate showing immunity should be sufficient for entry.
In what could be aptly called a sign of the changing times, William Ellwood Heinecke, chairman of hotel chain Minor International, last week had written to the Thai prime minister urging him to drop the Thai Pass. In 2020, Heinecke had written to the prime minister calling for a full lockdown.
“Requirements of Thailand Pass and post-arrival Covid tests are futile and ineffective,” Heinecke stated in his letter.
Comparing the arrival numbers, Heinecke mentioned that the 11,623 daily international arrivals at Suvarnabhumi airport is a mere fraction of the daily average of over 50,000 persons 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, general manager of The Slate Phuket.
Most of the stakeholders were expecting the Test & Go scheme to be scrapped later in July, according to Sauter. With countries around the region reopening to tourists, he appreciated the fact that the government has listened to the voice of reason.
“It is still early on to see an increase of bookings, furthermore, Phuket is entering its traditional lowest months of the year (May & June),” Sauter said.
“The Chinese market which usually helps a lot in May, won’t be here this year. We expect July and August to perform well with Middle East, Europeans, U.S. and Australians market, but also regional (Singapore, Malaysia, and India).”
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Photo credit: Thailand relaxes entry restrictions from May 1. Regina Ajes / Pixabay