Singaporeans in Bangkok cheer VTL with Thailand

Khaosan Road in Bangkok. The upcoming VTL will facilitate smoother travel for visitors between Thailand and Singapore. ST PHOTO: TAN TAM MEI

BANGKOK - Singaporeans living in Bangkok have welcomed the launch of the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with Thailand.

"I was, of course, super excited, my boyfriend had to tell me to calm down after hearing the news," said international school teacher Agnes Lin, 32.

She used to return to Singapore every alternate weekend, but has not seen her family in almost two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

From Dec 14, travellers from Thailand will not need to serve a seven-day stay-home notice in Singapore.

Instead, they will join visitors from several other countries under the VTL scheme who will need to only show negative results from two Covid-19 tests to be allowed to enter Singapore.

"Undergoing quarantine was a big factor in why I did not want to return earlier. But now that it is out of the way, it will be easier to go home," said Ms Lin.

Since Nov 1, Thailand has offered quarantine-free entry to air travellers from more than 60 selected countries and territories, including Singapore, in its boldest move so far to kick-start its battered tourism sector.

Thailand is heavily dependent on tourism and travel, with the sector making up one-fifth of its gross domestic product in 2019. Thailand registered about 40 million foreign arrivals that year, a million of which were from Singapore.

In 2020, just 6.7 million foreign travellers visited Thailand, and the number plunged to a little over 100,000 in the first 10 months of this year.

With its November reopening and vaccination rates inching past the 55 per cent mark, the kingdom registered more than 100,000 foreign arrivals in the last month.

The upcoming VTL will facilitate smoother travel for visitors between Thailand and Singapore, and shows an increasing confidence between Asean countries to open up reciprocal travel options, said travel analyst Gary Bowerman, director of tourism consulting firm Check-in Asia.

"It will have a positive impact on travel around the Chinese New Year period, which is one of the region's biggest holidays. Chinese New Year will be the litmus test to see what the actual demand for travel is like," he said.

But industry players do not expect travel between Thailand and Singapore to return to pre-pandemic levels in the immediate future, with visitors shuttling between the countries for the weekend or for spontaneous trips.

"The first wave of VTL travellers will primarily consist of business travellers, returning expats and those visiting friends and relatives," said a spokesman for Dynasty Travel.

But 30-year-old Nicholas Teoh, who was an avid leisure traveller to Bangkok, cannot wait to return, booking a Singapore Airlines return flight immediately after hearing news of the VTL on Friday (Nov 26).

Mr Teoh, who works in marketing, used to visit Bangkok at least once every two months for weekend getaways.

"Do first, think later. I will find out how to convert it to a VTL flight later," said Mr Teoh, who paid $320 for the tickets and was worried about the price going up after the announcement.

To enter Singapore under the VTL scheme, travellers must use designated VTL flights.

On Friday, Thailand also announced further easing of border requirements, with travellers undergoing antigen rapid tests instead of RT-PCR tests upon entry.

This will start on Dec 16, and will shorten the waiting time and lower the cost of Covid-19 testing.

Unlike Mr Teoh, though, Ms Lin is holding back on buying her flight tickets to Singapore for now.

"The trip definitely won't be as spontaneous as before. And while the entry requirements for Singapore are quite clear, I will wait for more clarity on the Thailand side," said Ms Lin, who has lived in Bangkok for five years.

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