Call to scrap PCR tests, Thailand Pass

Leaders from Thailand’s hospitality sector pose at the ‘Thailand Tourism Forum 2022’. Mr Heinecke, third from left, urges the government to lift travel restrictions to help tourism.

Hoteliers want to scrap the RT-PCR testing requirement along with the Thailand Pass because the Russian invasion of Ukraine has darkened the tourism outlook to such an extent that the industry might attract only 10% of the pre-pandemic arrival numbers.

William Heinecke, founder and chairman of global hotel operator Minor International, said Thailand finally rebounded after two years of the pandemic, but at a slow pace.

If the country really wants to move forward, the government must lift the restrictions immediately, said Mr Heinecke.

He said Thai tourism in the second quarter could be better given huge pent-up demand, known as revenge travel, which would go to waste if the government does not simplify the rules.

Mr Heinecke said the government should acknowledge the only course that can help hoteliers and employees is to fully open its borders, as Thailand lags behind competitors despite being the first to reopen in the region.

Without these efforts, the tourism sector will face more unemployment because hoteliers who have rehired workers will eventually be forced into more layoffs, he said.

Mr Heinecke said Thailand should follow the lead of other countries such as the US, UK, much of Europe, the Philippines, the Middle East and even Cambodia, which are completely open to tourists.

“Thailand is competing with the rules, not with other countries, as the government is making it so difficult,” he said.

Speaking at the Thailand Tourism Forum on Tuesday, Mr Heinecke said the government wants to bring back at least 10 million tourists this year, but it might receive only 10% of pre-Covid levels, or around 4 million tourists, if the current regulations remain in place.

Moreover, the government must help to stimulate air traffic from more countries, particularly low-cost Indian carriers, he said.

Despite an agreement for a travel bubble, there are still no available flights to Phuket or Thailand from India.

Mr Heinecke said the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine had resulted in cancellations from all over the world.

Thailand has seen more cancellations from the Russian market than have hotels in Europe, which makes the 10-million arrival goal even more difficult to achieve, he said.

Stephan Vanden Auweele, chief hospitality group officer at Asset World Corporation, said limited airspace because of the Russia-Ukraine war will deter tourists, as rerouting will result in 1-2 additional hours per flight.

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said tourist Covid infections have been trifling compared with existing case numbers in the country.

In addition, the government has been encouraging local communities to live with the virus, she said. If the government declares Covid-19 to be endemic and abolishes the Test & Go scheme, tourists could travel seamlessly using only a vaccine certificate and a pre-departure negative RT-PCR test result, said Mrs Marisa.