BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thailand is set to reopen more of its popular tourist destinations from next month, betting that a higher local inoculation rate against Covid-19 can help draw more foreign visitors and revive an economy battered by the pandemic.
The reopening of capital city Bangkok and Chiang Mai, as well as beach resorts Pattaya, Cha-Am and Hua Hin, from Oct 1 will be modelled after an initiative to bring back vaccinated tourists to Phuket, tourism ministry officials said.
More destinations, including Chiang Rai, Koh Chang and Koh Kood, may fully reopen for visitors from the middle of next month, with travel bubbles planned with neighbouring countries next year, they said.
The push to end pandemic-induced restrictions on tourists is part of Thailand's new "living with Covid-19" strategy, amid a raging outbreak that seeks to keep infections to a level that does not overwhelm its healthcare system.
Countries from Singapore to Indonesia and the Philippines are tweaking policies to deal with the endemic nature of the outbreak to protect livelihoods and save their economies from extending a slump.
For Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the revival of tourism is a key priority as it contributed about a fifth of the nation's gross domestic product in 2019, the year before the pandemic.
One of the key criteria for Thai tourist spots to waive the quarantine requirement for fully inoculated tourists is 70 per cent local vaccination rate.
The resort island of Phuket became the first Thai province to meet that target and reopened in July, with the programme extending to nearby islands and beach communities last month.
Thailand has said that its so-called Phuket "sandbox" is a success, and the programme would be emulated across the country.
More than 26,000 vaccinated travellers used the sandbox in the first two months, generating 1.6 billion baht (S$66 million) in tourism revenue, Phuket officials said.
Less than 1 per cent of the visitors tested positive for the virus even though local infections increased.
Thailand has fully inoculated about 14 per cent of its population, while 35 per cent have received their first shots.
Most of the tourist destinations chosen for the reopening already have higher vaccination rates than the national average and are expected to further bolster the level with increasing vaccine availability, health ministry officials said.