Thailand’s consulate in Hong Kong has launched a visa programme that will allow residents from the city and Macau to stay in the country for up to nine months, though a mandatory 14-day quarantine means the offer is unlikely to move the dial on travel, a tourism sector lawmaker has said.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand in Hong Kong revealed on Wednesday that permanent residents of the two cities could apply for a stay of as long as 270 days in the Southeast Asian country, provided they agreed to a hefty health insurance purchase – one that covers Covid-19 treatment – and a two-week hotel quarantine.
Those applying for the special travel visa must also provide proof of fully paid accommodation at a hotel, or prove they own a residential property, or have paid no less than 25 per cent of the purchase price, according to the Thai consulate’s website.
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A spokeswoman from the Royal Thai consulate general said the HK$600 (US$77) special tourist visa was aimed at long-stay travellers who needed to fly to the country to handle family, business or property matters, though opening it up for leisure travel would also be considered.
The consulate has arranged three special Thai Airways flights for travellers with the new visa for October 21, November 4 and November 18.
But tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said he expected relatively few Hong Kong residents would travel on the visa, as the application threshold was very high.
“It’s a formality to allow travel to Thailand again, but realistically, [this visa] is far from our expectations of forming a travel bubble,” he said. More than 1 million travellers from Hong Kong visited the popular Southeast Asian nation in 2018.
Applicants for the special tourist visas are required to provide a bank statement showing at least 500,000 baht (US$16,000) on deposit in the past six months, according to the consulate.
Those wishing to apply also have to purchase both outpatient and hospital insurance from a Thailand-based provider with coverage of 40,000 baht and 400,000 baht, respectively. International health insurance that provides a minimum coverage of US$100,000 and includes Covid-19 treatment is also required.
“The barriers to travel are very high, as applicants for the visa have to fork out a considerable amount of money just to make the trip to Thailand,” Yiu added.
Hong Kong’s beleaguered tourism sector has urged the government to speed up talks in reopening its travel border with mainland China and creating “bubbles” with other countries to help the struggling industry.
Earlier this week, Singaporean transport minister Ong Ye Kung hinted that travellers from Hong Kong may soon be able to visit without being quarantined.
Last month, commerce chief Edward Yau Tang-wah revealed that the government had approached 11 countries since mid-June to start the formation of travel corridors, which would allow visitors to skip quarantine if they tested negative for the coronavirus before departure and again upon arrival.
As the Covid-19 pandemic forced border closures and paralysed international travel, only about 23,000 arrivals from Thailand came to Hong Kong between January and August this year, a 94 per cent drop from more than 384,000 in the same period last year.
Earlier this month, the Thai government extended visa amnesty for foreigners who were stuck in the country due to the pandemic until October 31, marking the fourth extension of the policy.