Thailand’s first round of Special Tourism Visa (STV) arrivals has been delayed until the end of this month. The news was confirmed today by Phuket’s governor, who has asked for the flights to be pushed back until after the island’s annual Vegetarian Festival, which is scheduled to run from 17-25 October. The STV arrivals touch down when the festival has finished.
“I have already requested that foreigners arrive after the Vegetarian Festival ends, said Governor Narong Woonciew in a video posted on the local government’s Facebook page. “The decision was made to make people feel more comfortable with tourists arriving,” he added.
The first group of tourists to arrive under Thailand’s new Special Tourist Visa scheme had been scheduled to land in Phuket on 8th October, on an AirAsia flight from Guangzhou in southern China, where the Covid-19 situation has long been stable and under control. The decision to delay their arrival was taken due to it overlapping with Phuket’s traditional Vegetarian Festival; a macabre spectacle that draws crowds from across Thailand for events including street parades, fire walking and self-mutilation.
Many of the events have been cancelled or controlled due to Covid-19 concerns, though the festival will go ahead under strict safety controls. Government officials on the island have expressed concerns about safely managing tourists’ return during this time, and moved to separate the two events.
“The batch of tourists expected for tomorrow can’t come because we haven’t worked out all the details to receive them,” explains Narit Kanjanopas, from the Ministry of Tourism and Sport.
All STV arrivals must provide a ‘Fit to Fly’ medical certificate from their home country, which states that they are free from Covid-19 at the point of departure. To receive their visa and a Certificate of Entry (COE), the passengers must also arrange travel insurance equal to at least USD 100,000, including cover for Covid-19. Thailand’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) plans to limit STV arrivals to just 300 people per week, but this will be reviewed after the first phase of the re-opening, which has now been pushed back.
“Their trip is not cancelled, it’s just delayed,” explains Yuthasak Supasorn, who is governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). He was also eager to clarify that the STV programme is still going ahead as planned, and that the latest disruption is only a minor delay. As for the Chinese tourists waiting to visit Phuket with their new visa, “they will come within October for sure,” added Supasorn.
When they finally do arrive at the end of October, holders of the STV will become Thailand’s first visitors under the new long-term stay strategy, with approval for a maximum of 270 days in Thailand permitted. A total of 120 passengers are scheduled to fly, and will spend their first 14 days in Thailand in a state-approved quarantine facility, as per the rules of the STV.