BANGKOK- Thai government officials on Wednesday inspected the readiness of the country's airports to welcome quarantine-free travellers, due to return next month after almost two years of strict COVID-19 rules that halted vital tourism.
From Nov. 1, the country will allow vaccinated arrivals from low risk countries to return to its popular destinations like Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Tourism before the pandemic was a leading driver of the economy, accounting for 12% of GDP. But the tourism authority has forecast foreign arrivals will drop to just 100,000 this year, down from 40 million in 2019 before the pandemic struck.
"November 1 is the first step," Transport Minister Saksiam Chidchob said during a visit to Bangkok's Don Muang airport on Wednesday.
"Foreign tourists and investors from at least 10 countries which are in health-safe zones, as well as doing great financially, can come to visit and spend in the country."
Thailand piloted reopening earlier this year in its resort island of Phuket, allowing fully-vaccinated tourists to skip Thailand’s mandatory two-week quarantine provided they remained on the island.
But Saksiam said the wider reopening would be even simpler for travellers, as testing on arrival could be done at hotels and other accommodations rather than at the airport.
"The entire time a visitor will spend from getting through the terminal gates to leaving the airport would take no more than 25 minutes," Saksiam told reporters.
Thailand has recorded nearly 1.8 million cases and 18,486 fatalities since the outbreak began, the overwhelming majority of which have been in the past seven months.
(Reporting by Artorn Pookasook and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Editing by John Geddie and William Maclean) ((John.Geddie@thomsonreuters.com; +65 6403 5578;))