The Tourism and Sports Ministry plans to continue travel bubble discussions with short-haul destinations following this week’s resumption of the Test & Go scheme.  The Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) is calling for a more relaxed RT-PCR testing regime to bring back at least 5 million tourists this year.

Short haul tourists are eagerly awaited as direct international travellers to Hua Hin Airport with the widening of the runway soon to be completed. There are reports of multiple airlines eager to fly from various regional centres within a six hour flight range as a major source of visitors to the region once travel restrictions are lifted.

The country wants to continue travel bubble initiatives, particularly with nearby countries that generate enormous cross-border traffic, such as Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.  He said the matter could be up for discussion when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha welcomes his Malaysian counterpart to Thailand later this month.

The ministry plans to visit Beijing for the Winter Olympics this month and wants to use the opportunity to seek further updates from China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism regarding a travel agreement.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said 35,046 tourists registered for Thailand Pass during its first day of reopening on February 1st, of which 31,343 were for the Test & Go scheme.

Vichit Prakobgosol, TCT vice-president, said even though the tourism sector was improving, strict testing rules were an obstacle to growth as they deter tourists.  He said locations that require no RT-PCR test on arrival, such as Dubai, the Maldives and Turkey, can now attract more arrivals than in 2019 before the pandemic and such reopening policies have not worsened their outbreaks.

“If there is no new surge in cases and fatalities after the first month of Test & Go resumption, the government has to consider dropping the RT-PCR test requirement. If it does, the country is projected to see at least 5 million tourists,” Mr Vichit said.