Thailand Talks Travel Bubbles with China and Malaysia

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Thailand in travel bubble talks with China and Malaysia
Thailand in travel bubble talks with China and Malaysia.

Thailand will meet with China and Malaysia to discuss travel bubbles this month as part of efforts to ensure faster recovery of its vital tourism sector.

Reuters reports that Thailand received over 40 million foreign tourists in 2019, with more than a quarter arriving from China. Total arrivals slowed to just 0.5% of this number in 2021 due to low external demand and tight quarantine requirements.

Tourism hotspots in Southeast Asia have lost billions without tourists from mainland China, which has yet to relax its international travel restrictions.

China has agreed to discuss a “tourist exchange” with Thailand, however, which would determine the number of people allowed between the two countries, as well as protocols for visas, travel, and insurance, according to Thai government spokesperson Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Thailand has instituted a number of reopening schemes, including the quarantine-free Sandbox programs and its Test and Go travel scheme for vaccinated arrivals.

China, however, requires lengthy quarantine for most arrivals and has a zero-tolerance policy toward outbreaks.

Meanwhile, Malaysia has agreed to talks with Thailand later this month for a similar agreement, with Malaysian tourists making up one of the largest groups of visitors to Thailand prior to the pandemic.

Tim Leelahaphan, a Bangkok-based economist at Standard Chartered Plc, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying, “We think a travel bubble will be more positive for Thailand’s tourism sector than the currently implemented ‘Test & Go’ quarantine-free scheme, as the latter alone is not enough to attract tourists who will have to quarantine on their return.”

“While the plan is a good starting point, we think a clear and strong recovery path is unlikely anytime soon and is more likely in the second half or late this year,” he said.