Thailand's hotel quarantine packages fail to prevent overseas arrivals falling by 99.9%

Mark Stratton
·3-min read
Shuttered shops in Phuket - Getty
Shuttered shops in Phuket - Getty

Phuket’s heavenly beaches are empty, barely anyone is browsing the spices and handicrafts of Bangkok’s famous Chatuchak Market. The Covid crisis has taken a heavy toll on a tourism sector contributing about one-fifth of Thailand’s GDP.

Even since tentatively relaunching tourism late last year with 14-day quarantine hotel packages – under the banner of ‘Amazing Thailand Plus’ – visitors have stayed away.

In November 2020 Thailand welcomed just 3,065 arrivals, mostly those visiting friends and family. Down 99.9% on the same month the previous year when 3.3million arrived. The creation of a long-stay Special Tourist Visa (STV) – permitting visits of up to 45 days inclusive of hotel quarantine – has only seen an average uptake of 346 overseas visitors per month since November, well below a government target of 1,200.

“We’ve seen zero interest in Thailand,” says Sam Clark of Experience Travel Group. “The idea of being imprisoned in one hotel for 14 days is just not an option for travellers. I believe the Thai public remains against opening up, though this might shift as the economic toll bites”.

All arrivals spend their first 14 days at a hotel as part of a package called Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ). The packages typically include three meals per day and two Covid-19 tests conducted on the property, the second of which functions as test-and-release from quarantine. Arrivals remain in their room for the first few days until an initial Covid-19 test is taken. If negative they may access limited hotel facilities outdoors such as the pool. A number of ASQ golf packages have been recently launched, with wellness quarantine packages in the pipeline.

The beaches would normally be packed at this time of year - Getty
The beaches would normally be packed at this time of year - Getty

You can pay as little as £750 per person for a quarantine package at the Kinn Bangkok Hotel or up to £8,865 for a two-bedroom pool villa at the luxurious Anantara Phuket Suites & Villas.

This five-star resort is a coconut’s throw from the six-mile Mai Khao Beach – but its alluring white sands remain off-limits to those quarantining.

Since early October, Anantara Phuket has received 960 guests. “It’s below our initial expectations but this is due to circumstances outside our control, such as restrictions on outbound travel from key markets whose borders are currently closed,” explains Frederic Varnier, managing director. “Typically, this time of year we would be full but currently our occupancy is around 20%”.

Speaking from Thailand, Chris Lee, head of marketing for the Tourism Authority of Thailand (UK), rejects criticism of the country’s approach. “ASQ was never a major initiative to welcome large quantities of tourists. Thailand is focused on a safe and responsible return to tourism later in the year.”

Sightseeing boats gather dust in Phuket - Getty
Sightseeing boats gather dust in Phuket - Getty

The gamechanger may be vaccination but at present no pathway has been outlined to lift international quarantine restrictions.

“Thailand will roll out their vaccine program by February 2021, with plans to vaccinate 33 million Thais this year,” says Lee. “The Thai government has launched a taskforce working with fellow ASEAN countries to create a vaccination certification between countries to boost regional tourism. There are no details yet of how that will work with European countries.”

“It’s still early days, but we’re very encouraged by the vaccination program in the UK, our largest source market,” says Kate Kemp, owner of The Sarojin, a luxury boutique residence, located at Khao Lak, an hour north of Phuket Island.

The Sarojin is reopening on February 25 with a focus on the Thai domestic market. “With the ongoing absence of international tourists, we need to keep the property operationally fit. We don’t know how the vaccination program will translate into bookings but the main barrier for now remains the 14-day quarantine requirement,” says Kemp.