And even then, he says, there will likely be restrictions on who can visit and where they can go.
“We are not going to open all at once,” he adds. “We are still on high alert, we just can’t let our guards down yet. We have to look at the country of origin [of the travelers] to see if their situation has truly improved. And lastly, we have to see whether our own business operators are ready to receive tourists under the ‘new normal’.”
Once Thailand does open to international tourists, they’ll likely only be able to visit certain spots, says Yutasak.
“We have studied a possibility of offering special long-stay packages in isolated and closed areas where health monitoring can be easily controlled — for example, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui. This will be beneficial for both tourists and local residents, since this is almost a kind of quarantine.”
Bangkok’s famous street food vendors have reopened, but diners must follow strict social distance rules.
Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Yutasak says they’re finishing up a framework to restart tourism, but much of the decision-making lies in the hands of the CCSA — the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration — which will decide when is the best time to open the border.
“The next step is bilateral agreements between countries,” he says. “Thailand’s good standing in the face of the crisis with China, along with strong pent-up demand, make it a logical short-term solution for overseas tourism to return to the Kingdom.”
For now, Thailand isn’t taking any chances and the country’s borders are firmly shut.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) has issued a temporary ban on all international commercial flights into the country until June 30, excluding repatriation flights. The Thais who do return on these flights are put into quarantine facilities for 14 days.
Meanwhile, on May 26, the Thai Cabinet agreed to extend the nationwide state of emergency until June 30.
Thailand has seemingly managed to avoid the ravages of the virus experienced by many other nations around the world.
When this story was published, the country had recorded 3,042 Covid-19 cases and 57 deaths. It’s reporting only a handful of new Covid-19 cases each day — occasionally even zero. Instances of local transmissions are low, with most recent Covid-19 infections discovered in quarantined returnees.
Country kicks off domestic tourism push, eases lockdown measures
Thailand is now focused on reopening to domestic tourism in June, says Yutasak. Resorts and hotels in some tourism destinations throughout the country have already been given the green light to reopen, including in Hua Hin, a popular beach resort about 200 kilometers (124 miles) south of Bangkok.
Nationwide lockdown measures put in place in late March have been easing in stages throughout May.
Restaurants — limited to offering only delivery and take-out services in late March — can now allow customers to dine in but are banned from serving alcohol and must adhere to strict social distancing measures. Pubs and night clubs remain closed, and a curfew is in place from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Phuket International Airport, however, remains closed until further notice.
As a result, Phuket officials imposed strict lockdown measures and embarked on an intensive drive to test residents.
But with cases slowing to a trickle in recent days, embattled travel industry players question the continued closure of the island’s airport when the rest of the country is opening to domestic flights.
“The Phuket tourism sector at the moment is sad, stunned, annoyed and dismayed at the lack of a defined plan to reopen the airport,” says Barnett.
Local businesses struggle
Even with domestic tourism starting to kick off in some provinces, it’s only a drop in the bucket.
In 2019, nearly 40 million tourists visited Thailand, according to government data. The TAT estimates only 14 to 16 million will visit this year.
Financially stressed hotels in need of cash flow have already started aggressively selling hotel rooms and vouchers, says Barnett, while also looking to the local market to provide some relief.
Shoppers wearing face masks walk past a sign reminding visitors to observe social distancing at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market on May 17.
CANDIDA NG/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
“International tourists make up about 50 percent of my customer base,” she says. “Most are from Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.”
Before the Lunar New Year holiday in January, Tassanee owned four clothing shops at the market. She has since closed two and is now considering shuttering a third and shifting her focus to online orders.
Wildlife returns to once busy natural spaces
But the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t had completely negative consequences. As seen in other once busy global destinations, Thailand’s wildlife has benefited from the global shutdown — particularly marine animals.
Marine biologist Dr. Thon Thammawongsawat says the changes he’s witnessed have been remarkable, with animals returning to destinations once crowded with humans.
“For example, pink dugongs were spotted around Ban Pe, in Koh Samet and green turtles laid eggs for the first time in six years at Koh Samui beaches,” he says.
More than 200 of these turtles were born on the secluded beach of the Banyan Tree Samui resort, with three nests hatching between April 4 and 24, according to hotel staff.
More than 200 baby green turtles hatched at Koh Samui’s Banyan Tree resort in April.
A giant mother turtle reportedly laid the eggs in late February and early March, which were then protected by the resort’s resident marine biologist and the local Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.
Other species of turtles have returned to Thailand’s shores to lay eggs, too.
“The most crucial indicator of positive side effects from this crisis is that we’ve seen leatherback turtles lay eggs in the highest amount since we began recording statistics eight years ago,” says Thon.
“Last year, we recorded that there were about 100 leatherbacks hatched. This year, up until now, there are more than 300 hatched and returned to the sea.”
The country’s national parks officials say they hope to preserve some of these gains.
“The department has decided to close national parks — both land and marine parks — every year between two to three months a year,” Sompoch Maneerat, director of information for Thailand’s Department of National Parks, tells CNN Travel.
“Durations and dates will be varied depending on the nature of each location. The purpose is to achieve sustainable tourism, where nature can rest during the low season.”
The bay has been closed since June 2018 part of a rejuvenation program aimed at reviving the area’s decimated corals.