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Thailand Wants To Be Part Of A Tourism Bubble With China And Malaysia

Thailand eyes travel bubble with China and Malaysia

Following a disappointing reaction to quarantine waiver and sandbox programs, a Southeast Asian nation is pursuing bilateral agreements. Travel bubble discussions with China and Malaysia are scheduled to take place later this month, only days after the country reinstated a visa exemption for tourists, which is viewed as critical to maintaining the country’s fragile economic recovery.

Deputy Prime Minister Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana stated that the administration of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha would soon meet with the Chinese Minister for Culture and Tourism to discuss the specifics of a prospective bilateral travel agreement, according to a government statement released Monday. In addition, he added, Thai authorities are prepared to attend negotiations with their neighbors in Malaysia later this month to come to a similar accord.

As a result of the failure to attract many tourists to Thailand following the recent waiver of quarantine for vaccinated visitors and the implementation of so-called tourism sandbox experiments, the country is pursuing bilateral agreements to jumpstart an overall recovery in its pandemic-devastated tourism industry. The tourism sector believes that returning Chinese and Malaysian tourists, who were the main groups of visitors to the Southeast Asian country before the epidemic, will be critical to long-term recovery.
A travel bubble, rather than the currently implemented ‘Test & Go’ quarantine-free scheme, “will be more beneficial for Thailand’s tourism sector,” according to Tim Leelahaphan, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Bangkok. “The latter alone will not be enough to attract tourists who will have to quarantine on their return,” he added. Although the plan is a solid start, we believe that a clear and robust recovery path is unlikely soon and is more probable in the second half or later this year.

According to official statistics, Chinese and Malaysian tourists made more than one-third of the 40 million visitors to Thailand in 2019, generating more than $20 billion in tourism earnings. Since the Covid outbreak, Chinese visitors have shied away from Thailand, with Beijing placing restrictions on outbound travel.

Tourists who travel inside the travel bubble will not be subjected to quarantine and will be able to take advantage of special visa and lodging arrangements, according to Thanakorn. According to the official, to avoid further Covid outbreaks, the nations will also agree on a limit for passengers and designate certain zones for their travels.

“The prime minister thinks that Thailand will continue to be a popular tourism destination for international tourists even throughout the epidemic,” Thanakorn said in a statement. “The government has supported the rehabilitation of tourism in a new normal,” he added, referring to a new normal that seeks a balance between the safety of passengers and the general population and which may serve as a model for future tourism.

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