Thailand: Call for travel bubbles

Tourism operators have called for reciprocity on Thailand’s reopening scheme, urging the government to launch travel bubbles with other countries to completely remove quarantine on both sides.

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), said the Nov 1 reopening scheme without quarantine and area restrictions for 46 countries will also enable Thai tourists to take outbound trips to those countries and face no mandatory quarantine on their return to Bangkok for the first time in almost two years.

He said outbound tour operators are eager to resume overseas package sales as the association has held virtual meetings with national tourism organisations (NTO) to see the potential of overseas trips.

“We have held discussions with 6-7 NTOs and embassies per week, such as Japan, India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, about travel regulations, as they want Thai tourists to visit their countries in the near future. But we haven’t yet committed to any marketing plan as the most practical solution to revive international tourism is quarantine-free entry for both sides, not only in Thailand,” he said.

Mr Suthiphong said that in order to get a healthy flow of tourists, the government should settle travel bubble agreements with those countries on the list to apply the same regulations for travellers from each side.

Meanwhile, tourists have had to accept some additional conditions to resume international trips during the pandemic, such as requirements for RT-PCR tests before their departure and on their return.

Nuntaporn Komonsittivate, head of commercial operations at Thai Lion Air (TLA), said most of the low-cost carriers still have to consider actual demand after reopening on Nov 1, in order to resume international flights for the first time in almost two years.

She said TLA is eyeing the Singapore route in November, but it also depends on travel regulations in Singapore, particularly mandatory quarantine, which could be an obstacle for Thai travellers.

“Travel bubbles for reciprocal reopening between two countries are essential for international travel. Without mutual agreement, there could be an imbalance of passengers as we might mostly depend on inbound travellers, but lack outbound tourists to fill up capacity,” she said.

Ms Nuntaporn said TLA has now resumed 13 domestic routes with an average cabin factor of 60-70% nationwide, which is a similar number to that prior to the second and third waves.

However, she said it might take some time to regain the same flight frequencies as seen in the fourth quarter of last year.