Govt girds for China visit influx

Chinese tourists visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok before the Covid-19 pandemic. (File photo)

The government is gearing up to welcome Chinese tourists back after Beijing decided to lift travel curbs earlier than expected.

Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob said on Wednesday he and Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn were invited to attend a Jan 5 meeting with the Public Health Ministry at Government House to prepare for the return of Chinese tourists.

Mr Saksayam said the Ministry of Public Health is also coordinating with the Chinese embassy for details about China’s reopening to help prepare travel measures.

He expressed confidence that the Ministry of Public Health will be able to manage the Covid-19 situation.

Moreover, the return of Chinese travellers is expected to be gradual, he added.

On the Transport Ministry’s part, he said the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) and the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand (Aerothai) are gathering information about the number of flights and tourists and the ministry has about a week to make plans, he said.

Airlines are expected to file requests with the Airports of Thailand (AoT) before the New Year holidays and initially, they are likely to resume flights to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. Charter flights are also expected during the Chinese New Year too, he said.

He has instructed airports to increase their ground handling capacity to prevent unnecessary delays or inconvenience.

Throughout next year the number of Chinese travellers using AoT-operated airports is expected to be around 7-10 million, compared with the pre-Covid number of 20.5 million.

Mr Saksayam visited Suvarnabhumi airport on Wednesday afternoon ahead of the New Year rush and asked about its readiness for the return of Chinese visitors.

Deputy government spokeswoman Traisulee Taisaranakul said the government is closely following China’s reopening.

She said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports will keep themselves abreast of new details when they are announced.

“This is to make sure that Thailand is ready to welcome Chinese travellers,” she said.

Following China’s reopening, people close to the Thai tourism and travel sector say the number of international travellers in 2023 is likely to reach 25 million, instead of 20 million as forecast.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand forecasts 20 million arrivals next year. Pre-Covid, Chinese tourists made up to 30% of international arrivals, or about 11 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, Nanthakarn Suwanpidokkul, deputy director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), said the GPO has developed its own version of the antiviral drug, molnupiravir, to treat Covid-19.

She said the GPO has begun manufacturing the drug which should boost the country’s supply of antiviral drugs and people’s access to affordable treatment. Molnupiravir has so far been procured from abroad, she added.

She said locally-produced molnupiravir is expected to be distributed to hospitals this week and patients with prescriptions can purchase the drug at any GPO drug store.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has welcomed a move by airlines to slash airfares by 20% from January following the government cutting excise tax on jet fuel to 20 satang per litre to stimulate tourism.

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said Gen Prayut was pleased to learn about the Thai Airline Association’s move and thanked them for helping the government stimulate travel and local consumption, and revive the economy. All seven airlines will offer promotions with all air fares reduced by up to 20% in January.