BANGKOK • Thailand will go ahead with a plan next month to reopen to vaccinated foreign visitors, starting with its most popular resort island Phuket, as it tries to revive tourism while battling its biggest coronavirus outbreak so far.
The plan was approved by the government's economic task force on Friday and comes just days ahead of the start of a mass vaccination drive, the success of which will determine when Thailand can fully restart an industry that attracted 40 million tourists annually before the pandemic.
Phuket is a pilot scheme for the reopening, and is aiming to vaccinate 70 per cent of its local population by July 1, far ahead of the national rate. It has eased many restrictions in recent weeks, with few daily local infections recorded, and has so far inoculated about half of the population.
Under the "Phuket Sandbox" plan, foreigners who have been fully vaccinated and fly directly to Phuket from overseas do not need to undergo quarantine.
Thailand lost about US$50 billion (S$66.2 billion) in tourism revenue last year, an 82 per cent slump, with Phuket, which is visited by about a quarter of foreign tourists in the country, badly hit. The government hopes at least 100,000 foreign tourists will head to Phuket in the third quarter.
Thailand had just 28,701 arrivals in the first four months of this year, and the state planning agency predicts a total of 500,000 this year. That compares with 6.7 million foreign visitors last year, and nearly 40 million in 2019, when tourists spent 1.91 trillion baht (S$81.3 billion).
Indonesia is also looking to revive its battered tourism industry by welcoming visitors to Bali, Bintan and Batam from next month.
To encourage domestic tourism, the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime and Investment Affairs will start a pilot project that allows civil servants to work from Bali.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Salahuddin Uno also said last week that he has met envoys from seven countries, including Singapore, to discuss setting up travel corridors.
Other South-east Asian countries are more cautious about opening up their borders. As of yesterday, the Asean region recorded over 4.1 million Covid-19 cases and more than 80,700 deaths.