Trade group urges move on travel bubble systems


Foreign tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport on the first day of Thailand’s reopening campaign last November. Reuters

The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) says international arrivals could top 5 million this year if the government starts travel bubbles with Asian partners, as the Test & Go program alone is not enough to attract those who are quarantined upon their return.

Thailand should also prepare for the Saudi market after the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Atta said.

“Outside the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Tourism Authority of Thailand [TAT], travel bubbles cannot be achieved without strong support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If the Foreign Ministry cannot initiate such cooperation, then the Prime Minister himself must take the lead,” said Atta Chairman Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn.

He said there was an Asian country that generated nearly 2 million arrivals a year in Thailand before the pandemic and wanted to reconnect with the nation via a bubble deal, but Thailand’s lukewarm comments had chilled it. ‘effort.

Mr Sisdivachr said travel bubbles may encourage some countries that have tightened their guard to consider the option as a way to revive business and the travel industry, saving their economies from a prolonged impact. He named Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China as prime targets.

Tourism operators are preparing their marketing to exclude the Chinese market until the last quarter of this year, with China hosting the Winter Olympics next month and the Asian Games in September. The top priority for Beijing is to contain any outbreak behind closed borders, Mr Sisdivachr said.

He said Thailand and partner countries would reap economic benefits if travel bubbles were created this year.

Thailand will attract at least 5 million tourists if travel bubbles are allowed, a jump from last year’s 230,467 arrivals, mostly from Europe and the United States, Mr Sisdivachr said.

“Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to strike travel deals with other countries after his visit to Saudi Arabia restored diplomatic relations, strained for more than 30 years,” he said.

Thailand welcomed 36,783 Saudi tourists in 2019 and 4,125 tourists in 2020 despite having no official diplomatic relations.

Mr Sisdivachr said that given the high purchasing power and demand for travel, the Saudi market could increase tenfold to more than 300,000 tourists a year if tourism marketing campaigns resume this year.

Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the TAT, said his office in Dubai was preparing to resume tourism marketing campaigns in Saudi Arabia focusing on medical tourism, which accounted for 30% of arrivals in 2019.

Even without direct flights between the pair of countries, Saudi Arabia’s two main cities – Riyadh and Jeddah – have strong air connections to aviation hubs in the Middle East for Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airlines and Etihad Airways. More convenient options are expected if Saudia Airlines direct flights to Thailand resume as announced.


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