Thailand shelves ‘travel bubble’ plan amid virus spike

Thailand continues to ease pandemic restrictions as the country attempts to revive its battered economy. (AFP)
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Updated 07 August 2020

Thailand shelves ‘travel bubble’ plan amid virus spike

  • Thailand had a record 39.8 million tourists in all of 2019, spending 1.93 trillion baht

BANGKOK: Thailand has delayed plans for a “travel bubble” agreement with select countries as new daily coronavirus cases rise in parts of Asia, putting pressure on its vital tourism industry and complicating efforts to revive its battered economy.

Thailand first proposed the idea in June to allow movement between select countries that have low infection numbers, without the need for travelers to undergo quarantine.

But that has been shelved, officials said, amid second and third waves in East Asian countries that previously had their outbreaks under control.

“We are delaying discussion of travel bubble arrangements for now given the outbreak situation in other countries,” Thailand’s coronavirus taskforce spokesman, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, told Reuters.

Despite more than two months without confirmed local transmission and recording only 3,300 cases, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is facing its worst crisis in several decades.

Foreign arrivals plunged 66 percent in the first six months of the year, to 6.69 million. The industry has warned that at least 1.6 trillion baht ($51.5 billion) of revenue could be wiped from the Thai economy this year.

By comparison, Thailand had a record 39.8 million tourists in all of 2019, spending 1.93 trillion baht.

“Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea were among those considered (for a travel bubble) because those areas had a low number of cases, but now they were in double-digits so discussions were put on hold,” Taweesin said, referring to new daily infections.

Reviving talks would depend on the situation in each country, which the taskforce was assessing daily, he said, adding that was a widely accepted industry view.

The island of Phuket has instead proposed receiving direct flights from those countries, with tourists and business executives doing two-week quarantines in their hotels before going out.

“We are asking for travel, charter flights, into Phuket,” Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, told Reuters.

Although demand for long stays would be lower, it would be a start, with occupancy of 40 percent to 50 percent sufficient for hotels to survive and avert job losses, Bhummikitti added. 


Flydubai plane returns after inaugural service to Tel Aviv

Updated 26 November 2020

Flydubai plane returns after inaugural service to Tel Aviv

  • “Welcome to Dubai,” an immigration officer said as the passengers from Israel filed off the plane and into the glitzy Gulf city
  • The United Arab Emirates in September signed a landmark US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel

DUBAI: A flydubai aircraft landed in Dubai from Tel Aviv on Thursday, the first scheduled commercial flight between the two cities following the normalization of ties between the UAE and Israel.
“Welcome to Dubai,” an immigration officer said as the passengers from Israel filed off the plane and into the glitzy Gulf city, some of them waving and giving the peace sign.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was on hand in Tel Aviv earlier when the flight arrived after the four-hour journey from Dubai, called it “a moment of history.”
“As-salaam alaikum (Peace be upon you),” he said to arriving passengers. “Come again and again and again.”
The United Arab Emirates in September signed a landmark US-brokered deal to formalize relations with Israel, the first such agreement by an Arab state in the Gulf.
Commenting on the accord in a tweet on Thursday, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said it would foster “prosperity and progress” in the Middle East.
With their economies hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE and Israel are hoping for rapid dividends from the normalization deal, including an influx of tourists as Dubai enters its winter high season.
“The start of scheduled flights will contribute to economic development and create further opportunities for investment,” flydubai chief executive Ghaith Al-Ghaith said when the service was announced earlier this month.
The Dubai carrier will fly the route twice daily, and Israeli airlines El Al and Israir are both expected to launch their commercial services between the cities next month.
Etihad Airways, based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, has said it will begin flying to Tel Aviv in March 2021.
The UAE became only the third Arab country to normalize ties with Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
The two countries have already signed treaties on visa-free travel — although that is yet to come into force — along with accords on investment protection, science and technology.
Since the historic agreement, Bahrain has also forged ties with Israel, while Sudan has agreed to do so in principle.