Thailand is ending quarantine for vaccinated visitors from more than 60 countries, the biggest reopening gamble in Asia and one that could mark a turning point for the revival of mass tourism during the pandemic.
Starting Monday, fully-vaccinated travelers flying in from the U.S., China, Singapore, Japan, India and most of Europe are be able to freely tour Thailand’s sandy beaches, temples and tropical islands after testing negative for COVID on arrival. Inoculated visitors from countries not on the list can travel to Bangkok and 16 other regions, but they will be confined to their initial destination for the first seven days before being allowed to travel elsewhere.
It’s the biggest step Thailand has taken to welcome back a slice of the nearly 40 million visitors it hosted the year before the pandemic, and is billed as a “fight to win foreign tourists” as countries from Australia to the U.K. also loosen COVID curbs.
While Thailand fumbled in its previous reopening attempts due to a virus flareup and tardy progress in its vaccinations, it has had some success with the so-called Phuket Sandbox experiment that allowed vaccinated visitors to travel to other parts of the country after a limited stay on the resort island. Almost 60,000 tourists have visited the country since the plan started in July.
Tourist numbers are forecast to jump to as much as 15 million next year, bringing in more than $30bn (£22bn).
However, much of country still faces restrictions, with only around 42% of the population fully-vaccinated.
The coronavirus pandemic hammered Thailand’s economy, which would previously attract 40m tourists a year. Last year, tourist arrivals were down more than 80%.
The Thai government predicts revenues to rebound to their pre-pandemic levels by 2023, although many industry experts say China’s ongoing border closures will hamper the sector’s recovery.
Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists made up the biggest number of tourists, with some 12m visitors arriving from China in 2019.