Vaccine tourism set to spike


A physical distancing sign at check-in in the departures hall at Hong Kong airport on Aug 10. Hong Kong now allows vaccinated tourists from all but 10 high-risk locations.
A physical distancing sign at check-in in the departures hall at Hong Kong airport on Aug 10. Hong Kong now allows vaccinated tourists from all but 10 high-risk locations.

Outbound tour operators expect increasing demand for vaccine tourism in the fourth quarter because of the delay in procurement of high-quality vaccines in Thailand.

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), said even if local travellers are able to take outbound trips in the fourth quarter, which would be the best-case scenario, the number might be fewer than 10,000 people as slow vaccine rollouts in many countries are considered to be an obstacle.

He said rising caseloads had caused countries to impose strict regulations on Thai citizens, while short-haul destinations continue to suffer from the Delta variant and have put off the establishment of travel bubble agreements with Thailand.

Phuket is not an aviation hub for outbound tourists via Bangkok and nearby areas, so outbound packages through Phuket airport are not marketable for tour operators, said Mr Suthiphong.

In addition, the number of international arrivals this year may plunge to 1 million from the initial target of 3 million, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

He said if there are insufficient inbound flights to Thailand, this also affects outbound traffic.

“The number of outbound travellers this year will be the lowest since I began in this business 40 years ago,” Mr Suthiphong said.

Prior to the pandemic, Thai outbound tourists tallied 11 million a year, with spending of 430 billion baht.

The figure sank to 1 million with total expenditure of 50 billion baht last year, said the TTAA.

“The sluggish pace of inoculation and the requirement of booster shots will generate more demand for outbound vaccine tourism in the last quarter,” said Chotechuang Soorangura, managing director of NS Travel and Tours.

In addition to the US, the company plans to offer outbound packages to destinations such as Hong Kong, which eased entry regulations for inoculated tourists from Aug 9, with the exception of 10 nations considered to be high-risk.

Singapore could be another option as the country looks to reopen for travel in September, he said.

After a discussion with a tourism agency in Singapore, Mr Chotechuang said the country does not have a plan for vaccine tourism at the moment, but it is ready to take part whenever the government gives it the green light.

He said a revival in outbound tourism depends on travel restrictions for each destination and the quarantine requirements in Thailand.

If the mandatory quarantine period upon return can be reduced to seven days, it would cause more Thais to take trips overseas, said Mr Chotechuang.

Self-employed and office workers for multinational companies are the considered the key tourist market after many in the high-end segment already travelled abroad for vaccination, he said.



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