Coronavirus: lack of travel bubble, Thailand’s high-risk status spoil tourism overtures to Hong Kong visitors, experts say

·4-min read

Hongkongers vaccinated against Covid-19 can travel to Phuket from July 2 without having to quarantine on arrival, but local industry players have said the offer will attract muted enthusiasm amid remaining hurdles.

Stakeholders poured cold water on Thailand’s move to woo Hong Kong tourists, pointing out that those returning to the city would still need to undergo two weeks’ quarantine at hotels, with no existing travel bubble deal between the two governments.

Confirming a previous Post report, Thailand’s Tourism Authority on Wednesday said direct air travel between Hong Kong and Phuket would resume on July 2 via Thai Smile with four flights every week.

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Hong Kong travellers can go to Phuket without having to undergo any quarantine there provided they have been fully vaccinated two weeks before the date of departure and test negative for the coronavirus both before leaving from the city and upon arrival on the island.

Hongkongers can fly direct to Phuket from July as Thailand seeks to kick-start tourism sector

Visitors will need to download the ThailandPlus app and use it throughout their journey as well as apply for a certificate of entry from the Royal Thai Consulate in Hong Kong.

Travellers will also be allowed to continue their journey to the rest of Thailand after staying in Phuket for 14 nights. During that period, they will have to undergo Covid-19 tests on Day 1, 6 and 12. They can also choose to stay in Phuket for fewer than 14 nights and take a coronavirus test before flying back.

The Thai government has said 60 per cent of Phuket’s population have received their first vaccine shots, and the rate is expected to reach 70 per cent in July.

Authorities said that since May 16, Phuket had recorded only single-digit daily infections. The Covid-19 situation has shown signs of easing in the country in recent weeks, after a resurgence in April.

The Karon beach on Phuket Island. Photo: Reuters
The Karon beach on Phuket Island. Photo: Reuters

Thailand, which relies heavily on tourism, earlier said it aimed to gradually revive the sector by opening up Phuket in the summer, then Pattaya and ultimately Bangkok.

However, as Hong Kong lists Thailand as a high-risk country, residents who travel there are subject to a 14-day quarantine on return if they have already been vaccinated, and 21 days if they have not.

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the Thai move would not attract Hongkongers, as the city had yet to form a bubble with the country for a quarantine-free two-way trip.

“Whether Hong Kong will form a travel bubble with Thailand depends on both how well the situation has been controlled locally and whether the city is happy with the virus containment measures adopted by Thailand. I think we still need to wait for a long while for the travel bubble to happen,” he said.

Hong Kong’s travel bubble hopes depend on pandemic control, vaccination rate

Hong Kong commerce minister Edward Yau Tang-wah said in late March he had written to six countries, including Thailand, requesting the resumption of talks on a quarantine-free travel bubble, while also negotiating a new deal with Singapore.

The arrangement with the city state was postponed indefinitely in May after a fresh outbreak of Covid-19 there.

Tommy Tam Kwong-shun, chairman of the Society of IATA Passenger Agents, a coalition of the largest travel agents in Hong Kong, agreed Thailand’s scheme would not be attractive enough for the city’s travellers as long as they still faced quarantine on their return.

“This is a major obstacle. I don’t think local travel agents will bother to form tour groups there,” he said.

Explaining the recent increase in direct flights from Hong Kong to places such as Britain and Canada, Yiu said it might have been caused by the surging demand of Hong Kong students going overseas for study.

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