New campaign to attract medical travellers to Thailand

 

As global tourism is still partially operational, the campaign is targeting foreign nationals from Southeast and South Asian countries only.

The campaign takes into account the changes in tourist preferences and behaviour towards short-haul destinations and placing more focus on health and wellness trips.

TAT is targeting Southeast and South Asian nationals, for spa and wellness plus health and medical check-ups. The target countries are:

  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Brunei,
  • Cambodia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Vietnam

When the government eased restrictions in July, one of the first groups that were allowed entry was medical tourists. Thailand remains one of the biggest destinations for medical tourism in the world, which will mean significant revenues that can help out the medical and hospitality industries in the Kingdom.

Like all travellers allowed back into Thailand, medical tourists are required to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine. Unlike other groups the hospital in which they get medical treatment can provide the quarantine instead of alternate state quarantine hotels.

Thailand is in the process of preparing Wellness Quarantine facilities, spas, resorts and wellness centres as alternative quarantine locations, with the Department of Health Service Promotion drafting guidelines for medical tourists including the elderly from other countries.

The Medical Hub Board wants the government to allow more direct international flights to quarantine spa and resort locations for medical tourists. Samui, Phuket, Chiang Mai and U-Tapao airports would be additional direct destinations for medical tourists, as well as the existing Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in Bangkok.

Alternative state quarantine facilities have so far taken on 1,123 foreigners- medical tourists and those with them. Another 2,220 are pending approval, with an estimated 3,000 expected to enter the country in the near future.

The Ministry of Health has also proposed an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) to allow short-term visitors to travel to designated areas during their 14-day quarantine in some selected provinces, instead of being confined to their hotel premises.

Foreign visitors would have to accept travel routes set by the provinces and not veer off course. Most importantly, they must come from countries with a low Covid-19 risk and no local infections for three months. Tourists must test negative for the virus in 72 hours prior to departure and stay in home quarantine for 14 days before leaving their country. They must also book flights and accommodation through travel agents.

The provinces which are ready to reopen must make sure that routes for foreign visitors will not be used by local residents. Recommended activities for tourists include wellness tourism activities such as massage, spa and gastronomic tours. Hotels where they can stay must be hotels with SHA (Safety and Health Administration) standards and areas where foreign tourists can visit will be fixed.

Foreign tourists are required to use tracking devices with representatives of agencies responding to Covid-19 travelling with them at all times. Provinces eligible for the new type of ASQ must have adequate public health systems and hospitals with the capacity to treat Covid-19 patients. The hospitals must also be equipped with negative pressure rooms and laboratories. Many provinces, most of which are tourism provinces, have shown an interest in offering the new type of ASQ including Chon Buri, Buri Ram, Rayong, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and Surat Thani.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand the quarantine rules are discouraging foreign tourists. The Tourism Council of Thailand hopes to welcome 50,000 foreign tourists in the 4th quarter, which represents 0.5% of the 2019 figure. The organisation would like to convince the government to open its doors to more visitors. The Council expects 6.74 million foreign tourists in 2020, a drop of 83% compared to 2019, the best year ever achieved by the Thai tourism sector with 39.8 million visitors.

The prospects for 2021 remain uncertain, although the official tourism agency puts forward the figure of 20 million foreign tourists in 2021. But if there is no vaccine and a 14-day quarantine, that number could be cut to a few hundred thousand tourists.

The country is taking advantage of the crisis to move from mass tourism to high-end tourism.

Thailand’s Health Ministry is considering reducing the mandatory quarantine period for foreign tourists from 14 days, to 10 days. The reduction would be assessed after one month and, if successful, quarantine could be further reduced to 7 days. However, this reduction would only apply to those arriving from countries considered safe from Covid-19. Those arriving from high-risk countries would still be subject to 14 days’ quarantine. The country is also considering a mobile tracking app.

Chinese tourists accounted for more than a quarter of Thailand’s international tourists and may be the first low-risk country to sign up for quarantine-free travel. Most Chinese visitors come to Thailand for a week, so being quarantined would not be worth the trip for many. 11 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand in 2019.

Aside from China, Thailand may also establish travel corridors with Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

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