Several Asian countries popular with Americans are finally dropping their COVID restrictions, two and a half years after the pandemic started. Japan is opening to individual tourists a week from today, and Thailand eliminated its remaining COVID entry rules on Saturday.
Whitney and Chris Moseley from Houston surveyed the city of Bangkok from the 64th floor of Lebua at State Tower, while traveling in Thailand for several weeks, shortly before the country dropped entry restrictions for tourists. “Honestly, the tourism, it’s going to be really nice to have it back in some of the areas,” Whitney said.
Almost 40 million tourists visited Thailand in 2019 before the pandemic hit. That was when Bangkok was ranked the world’s most visited city for the fourth year in a row. But a lot has changed since then. For much of the pandemic, Thailand had a complicated system of quarantines for anyone entering the country, which discouraged tourism. And that was devastating for the economy, considering that in 2019, international travelers made up an estimated 60 percent of tourism spending, according to the Ministry of Tourism. The sector accounts for about 1/5th of the country’s gross domestic product and employment, according to data from the International Monetary Fund.
More than one million Americans visited Thailand in 2019. The marketing manager of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Steve Johnson-Stevenson, says: “We understand that we won’t get back to, you know, over one million visitors right away, but our goal is to ensure that we continue promoting to quality tourists.”
Lebua, which has six bars and four restaurants, including two with two Michelin stars, relied on their profits the past couple years. Lebua’s CEO Deepak Ohri says, “What people missed during COVID is real experiences.” CBS News Correspondent Wendy Gillette got special rates to stay at Lebua and Capella, a new Bangkok hotel with elegant design, riverside suites and water views from a one Michelin-starred restaurant that opened during the pandemic. “It’s been very, very challenging to say the least,” says Capella General Manager John Blanco. “That said we have discovered an amazing local market that was just absolutely famished for travel.” The hope is that international tourism will rebound to pre-pandemic levels in the next couple years.
Thailand has extended regular tourist visas from 30 to 45 days to encourage longer visits and has introduced a new ten-year visa for professionals who want to work remotely.