Photo credit: Bangkok Post
By Jeff Paine
Thailand to issue long stay visas to rebuild the battered tourism industry.
Tourism destinations around the world have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. With borders shut, flights grounded and general fear in communities, international travel has grounded to a halt. With many nations in Asia heavily dependent on tourism to support their economies, many citizens and businesses are feeling the economic pressure losing jobs and closing businesses at an alarming rate. Governments are struggling with the challenge of balancing health needs of their citizens and the economic challenges that such shutdowns are costing. At the same time, governments have been announcing oversized COVID-19 stimulus packages that in some cases they simply cannot afford. Sincere efforts have been made by governments across the region…let’s hope that the right policies can see a return to international tourism before the end of 2020.
Two of the hottest tourism destinations in Southeast Asia are under considerable pressure. Bali Indonesia, which was set to reopen the borders to international travellers in early September, was forced to delay reopening to 2021 due to an increased outbreak of COVID-19 cases. Hoteliers and property owners are feeling the heat without the usual influx of international travellers. Phuket, where 80% of the local economy depends on tourism, has suffered with a closed international airport and lack of domestic tourism. International travellers have been banned from Thailand since April 2020. Despite the government’s COVID-19 efforts to stimulate domestic tourism, most Thais are going to places close to Bangkok such as Pattaya and Hua Hin.
Governments around Asia are looking at several policy solutions to revitalize tourism in a COVID-19 world. With international travel at a standstill, governments are looking at domestic tourism, staycations in the case of tiny Singapore, subsidies for restaurants and hotels, and enhanced visas. Today, the Thailand Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA), a powerful body headed by the Prime Minister, announced a new long stay visa to entice international tourists to return to the Kingdom. The new visa will require international tourists to serve a 14-day quarantine in an approved Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) approved hotel. During the 14-day period, visitors will be tested for the COVID-19 virus three times, and after that period they are free to travel to other places in Thailand (if testing negative). The visa is for an initial 90-day period and costs 2000 Thai Baht. This visa can be extended two additional times at 90 days each, which provides the ability for foreigners to spend 270 days in Thailand. It is expected that the special visas will enable tourists to arrive in Thailand in October. 
While many nations such as Thailand and Singapore have made great progress in effectively managing the COVID-19 pandemic, it will take more nations to have similar results to bring international tourism back to previous levels. Technologies such as touch less payments, tracing apps and online delivery services have helped, yet there is still work to do. Balancing the health versus economic costs of this pandemic is no easy task.