Tourist sitting on a swing on a beach in Thailand.
© Marco Bottigelli | instant | Getty Images
Next Monday, Thailand will lift quarantine restrictions for travelers from more than 40 countries – even though less than half of its population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
As of October 27, only about 42% of the Thai population was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to Our World in Data. By comparison, other countries in the region such as Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore have seen more than 70% of their population fully vaccinated against Covid.
The three Southeast Asian countries as well as Australia and China are on Thailand’s List of Approved Countries, as the country prepares to reopen to tourists on November 1.
Following last week’s announcement, economists at Bank of America said it was good news for Thailand’s tourism sector, economic recovery and currency, but noted that it was ” not without risk “.
“Despite an impressive and admirable vaccination effort, comprehensive vaccination remains relatively weak and uneven,” economists said. “As is evident in other countries, the vaccination rate is far too low to prevent an outbreak, especially with the Delta variant.”
Still, they said a lockdown was not expected given the country’s high risk tolerance unless the capacity of the country’s intensive care units is exceeded.
Due to the uneven vaccination rate across the country, available data may not clearly reflect vaccination levels in places such as the capital Bangkok. The Deputy Governor of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration recently told Singapore-based media CNA that 75% of its residents have already been vaccinated with the second dose.
Among the region’s economies, Thailand is one of the “most dependent” on tourism, with the sector accounting for around 21% of GDP in 2019, according to Sian Fenner of Oxford Economics.
“Travel restrictions have come at a huge economic and social cost and have been one of the main reasons Thailand’s economic recovery has lagged behind many of its peers in the region,” Fenner said. , Chief Economist for Asia at the Global Consulting Firm.
Thailand’s economy grew 7.5% year-on-year in the second quarter, according to government data. This level of growth fell behind other regional economies such as Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, which grew between 11.8% and 16.1%.
Oxford Economics forecasts annual GDP growth of 1.8% in Thailand this year.
The return of international travelers, however, is not expected to be immediate as visitors may still face quarantine requirements in their home country, economists say.
“We expect inbound tourism to rebound in 2022, but even then we still expect international arrivals to be 66% below 2019 levels,” Fenner said. “In fact, we don’t expect a full recovery in inbound travel to pre-Covid levels before 2025.”
Meanwhile, economists at Bank of America have stressed that Chinese tourists – who made up about a quarter of Thai tourist arrivals in 2019 – are not expected to return until the second half of 2022.
China has largely closed its borders to international travel since last year and continues to pursue a strict zero-Covid strategy that has resulted in mass lockdowns even though only a few infections are reported.
Other parts of Southeast Asia are also looking to reopen their borders to international visitors.
Singapore has announced vaccinated travel lane arrangements with several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, while the Malaysian tourism minister told CNBC last week that the the country could reopen its borders to international tourists in November.