Thailand welcomes first international tourists as Australians in Bangkok plan Christmas home trips

Thailand has given the green light to vaccinated travelers from more than 60 countries in a move that coincides with the opening of some of Australia’s international borders.

This means that many Thailand-based Australians will be able to fly home for festive family gatherings with the knowledge they can easily return after the holidays.

From Monday, Bangkok Airport welcomed the first wave of visitors to Thailand in 18 months who will not undergo hotel quarantine for coronavirus.

In addition to Australia, the 60-nation list includes New Zealand, the United States, China, Japan, India and most of Europe.

Under the new national program, arrivals must spend their first night in a pre-approved hotel and receive a negative COVID-19 test before they can travel freely to the rest of Thailand.

Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about 12 percent of the country’s GDP, and Bangkok was the world’s most visited city.

The resumption of commercial flights and the relaxation of quarantine rules are also good news for Australians living and working in the Land of Smiles.

‘Looking forward to hopping on a train from Sydney’

A family wearing Hawaiian shirts, consisting of a father, mother and two young girls, hugs and smiles at the camera.
Tim Whitwell (right) and his family celebrate the Songkran Festival in Bangkok in April this year.(Delivered by: Tim Whitwell)

Bangkok-based businessman Tim Whitwell is now being reunited with his wife and daughters for Christmas.

“I am super happy to be able to book a commercial flight home after so many months of uncertainty,” said Mr. Whitwell to ABC.

“Despite our best efforts, there were no guarantees just a few weeks ago and who knows, it could have been February and we would still wait.”

Whitwell, who works for a Danish multinational company that manages its supply chain, has booked a Thai Airways flight to Sydney on 17 December and will return to Bangkok on 16 January.

He is planning a family reunion in Niagara Park, near Gosford, on the central coast of New South Wales.

A family wearing light shirts, consisting of a father, mother and two young girls, is sitting on a roller coaster in an amusement park.
Whitwell (left) said he and his wife Lisa went through months of “uncertainty” over air travel.(Delivered by: Tim Whitwell)

His wife Lisa and younger daughters Lucy, 11, and Matilda, 13, flew to Australia on October 6 on a federal government-sponsored return flight.

“Given the insecurity and difficulty of getting planes during the pandemic, we grabbed three seats whenever we could, but my wife and daughters had to go through hotel quarantine,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to landing in Sydney, hopping on a train to Gosford and being with the family under one roof again. Our older daughters, Hannah and Eliza, will be there too.

‘Haven’t hugged grandchildren in three years’

A bald middle-aged man in a black T-shirt is surrounded by three smiling little children on a wooden bench
Thailand resident Mark Weber says he has not seen his Queensland-based grandchildren in nearly three years.(Delivered by: Mark Weber)

But for the Bangkok-based schoolteacher, Mark Weber, it won’t do much for his holiday plans because most of his family is based in Brisbane and Cairns.

Queensland will not fully open its state borders until December 17, with some quarantine rules for international arrivals, making it harder for returning Queenslanders.

“I have not hugged my grandchildren in almost three years, so it’s hard to know I will not be able to do it this Christmas,” Mr Weber told ABC.

“Looking at it from a distance, it is clear that Australia is not a united country, but a federation of states with so many different rules for international arrivals.”

Sir. Weber, who has lived in Asia since 2013, is a middle school principal at Myanmar International School. He has taught at a distance from Bangkok, but will move to Yangon on November 10 to continue his role personally.

“You go where the work is, but moving to Myanmar will mean I’m further away from home, with less prospect of getting back to Australia any time soon.”

Thailand continues to deal with rising coronavirus cases driven by the Delta tribe, increasing the complexity of welcoming tourists during a pandemic.

The majority of Thailand’s 1.9 million infections and more than 19,000 deaths have been recorded since April.

A woman in a traditional Thai outfit wearing a clear face shield
A Thai classical dancer wears a face shield to help slow the spread of COVID-19 at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok.(AP: Sakchai Lalit)

About 42 percent of the country’s 72 million people have been vaccinated, according to government figures.

Australia-Indonesia itinerary discussed

Bali, another popular travel destination for Australians, is still not allowed so far.

But Indonesian media report that President Joko Widodo met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome to discuss the establishment of a vaccinated travel route (VTL) between the two nations.

“Hopefully the recognition of the VTL and vaccine certificate can be completed soon. I am sure this will speed up the economic recovery, of course in a safe way,” Mr Widodo was quoted as saying.

The Thai Ministry of Finance said it only expected a gradual return to international tourism, with 180,000 foreign arrivals predicted this year and 7 million visitors next year.

That compares with more than 40 million arrivals in 2019.

Still, Mr Weber said that even a modest resumption would provide a much-needed boost for his fellow Bangkok residents.

“I think it’s great that everything is opening up and it’s at the right time, especially for the Thai people.”

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