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Tourism Minister Wants to Revive Coronavirus ‘Travel Bubble’

Empty seats at Chiang Mai Airport.
Empty seats at Chiang Mai Airport.

BANGKOK — The tourism minister on Thursday said he wanted to renew a push for an agreement that would allow travel exchanges with countries where the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakan said the so-called travel bubble agreement is back on the negotiating table after the government gave a greenlight for four groups of foreigners to enter the country. The agreement will play a vital role in rescuing the crippled tourism industry, which heavily relies on foreign tourists, he said.

“Although we’re currently encouraging Thais to travel domestically, it’s still a difficult situation for entrepreneurs, since foreign tourists contributed to 2 out of 3 trillion baht of the total revenue,” Pipat said. “We will negotiate with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the health ministry to permit more travels into the country.”

The agreement, if approved, will allow tourism exchanges with certain cities or countries where the coronavirus threat appears to be under control. Countries and territories proposed for consideration include China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

But the idea was later shot down by the civil aviation regulator earlier this month due to reports of a new surge of infections in partner countries.

To satisfy health concerns, Pipat said the renewed discussions will focus on tourists from particular cities or provinces instead of the whole country. However, only “high-end” travellers will be allowed to visit the country at the initial phase, he added.

“High-end travellers on a leisure trip will be allowed to come in first,” Pipat said. “We believe that they will be able to visit destinations such as Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui as early as September.”

“We have already surveyed and conducted public hearings at those destinations.”

On Wednesday, the government’s response center to the pandemic allowed trade fair participants, film production crews, foreign patients seeking treatment in Thailand, and Thailand Elite Card holders to enter the country on condition of having to spend 14 days in quarantine.

The minister said he expected to generate at least 1.6 billion baht from foreign film sets. About 10,000 trade show participants are also eyed to come in.

Related stories:

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Pandemic ‘Travel Bubble’ to Admit Some Chinese Tourists

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