While Thailand is reopening very cautiously to international tourists, the introduction of “golf quarantine” packages is a new way to lure hesitant foreigners back to the country.
After the arrival of the Covid crisis, the Thai government decided to close the borders to most foreign tourists, making life very difficult for millions of locals working in tourism and travel-related industries. From a total of almost 40 million foreign travellers in 2019, the Kingdom received 6.7 million of international travellers in 2020. 99% of this figure was however from between January and March, prior to border closures and a ban on international travellers.
Tourism is crucial to Thailand, as it generates 20% of the country’s GDP. Spending from foreign tourists alone amounted to €49.52bn or 11% of GDP in 2019.
Last October, the government partially reopened its borders to wealthy travellers able to spend 15 nights in quarantine in selected Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ). Behind the acronym are specific registered hotels which must be paid by the guest, following strict sanitary protocols.
First established in Bangkok, the government has now opened quarantine facilities outside of Bangkok. Visitors can now quarantine in a number of provinces including Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket or Samui. With a price tag for the quarantine ranging from €1,030 to over €11,000 and complicated paper procedures, the ASQ did not qualify as a success story. Only some 10,000 foreign travellers took up the ASQ scheme from October to December.
The government has now rolled out a new package which might hopefully be more attractive. Foreign golfers with advance arrangements for golfing in Thailand will be allowed to undergo a golf quarantine as an ALQ option.
With more than 250 golf courses located throughout the country, Thailand has turned into a golf paradise over the past two decades thanks to its beautiful golf resorts and reasonable green fees. Before the pandemic, the Kingdom attracted over a million golfers per year. Currently, six golf resorts are included into the ASQ/LQ scheme. A major difference with quarantine in traditional resorts is the possibility to play golf at the resort. Most people quarantined in hotels in Bangkok or Phuket are movement-restricted.
Thailand’s prudent reopening to the world
The new golf package is just a first step towards broader opening. Thailand hoteliers and tour operators are asking for a reduction in the quarantine period. The government says it will study the possibility of a reduction to 10 days. It could then generate additional interest from travellers thanks to lower prices.
Another suggestion is to allow vaccinated travellers into the country without the 14-day quarantine. Thailand Tourism and Sports Minister, Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, recently revealed that he expected to welcome between five and ten million international visitors starting from this coming April or May. Additional vaccine doses will be acquired to inoculate people working in the hospitality industry as they are considered front-liners in destinations such as Bangkok, Chonburi, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi, Surat Thani and Songkhla, in order to build confidence amongst travellers.
Meanwhile, the governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yutthasak Supasorn, also hopes that an international “vaccine passport”, will be acknowledged worldwide and particularly within ASEAN. It would then allow travel between the ten ASEAN member countries without undergoing repeated quarantines.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand expects that foreign travellers will be able to return to Thailand by the third quarter of 2021. According to various traveller polls, Thailand remains the most desirable long-haul destination in Asia.