The Andaman sandbox project that promises quarantine-free travel has tourism operators optimistic about travel bubble agreements with vaccinated nations, especially China, after Beijing signalled its first softening of outbound travel restrictions in one year.
On Tuesday, the Chinese government announced it is issuing a digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate to its citizens to facilitate crossing borders.
The move made the Thai tourism industry jubilant, said Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.
The movement prompted tour agencies in China to immediately contact tour operators in Thailand to learn information about a possible exchange of vaccinated tourists via a quarantine-free programme.
Mr Prakobgosol suggested Thailand hold a discussion with the Chinese authorities as soon as possible to see if there is common ground on health, safety and vaccine protocols.
He said tour agencies on the mainland confirm their tourists are ready to take outbound trips from June.
“If Thailand can implement a travel bubble with China by that time, we have high hopes we can have 8 million Chinese visitors this year,” said Mr Prakobgosol.
“If a pact is finalised in July, Chinese arrivals would be less than 6 million, and if not until October, the figure is more likely 3 million.”
He said China should be the top priority because it has recovered faster and thus consumers have higher purchasing power.
“The Chinese market could take just two months to resume after regulations are settled. Chinese arrivals could reach 10 million within one year. If Andaman provinces lead pilot projects, this will benefit the tourism industry,” said Mr Prakobgosol.
Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the Andaman sandbox, which sees some areas welcome tourists without quarantine, includes Phuket, Koh Ngai, Railay and Khao Lak in the first phase in July.
The first arrivals could be from China if Thailand can start bilateral agreements with Beijing without waiting for vaccine passport guidelines from the World Health Organization, he said. This also depends on when the Chinese government allows outbound travel.
Though some agencies in China, such as Ctrip, project the country to allow international travel from July, it won’t be easy to achieve 8 million arrivals this year as the prohibition against outbound travel remains for the first half this year, said Mr Supasorn, adding sentiment is positive after a meeting with governors of southern provinces.