Tee off in Thailand as tourists arrive for golf quarantine

By Chayut Setboonsarng and Sangmi Cha

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has welcomed golfers from South Korea for the country’s new golf quarantine programme in a bid to boost tourism revenue hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

About 40 South Koreans are undergoing quarantine at Artitaya Country Club, an hour north of Bangkok, where they were tested on arrival last week, Tourism Authority of Thailand deputy governor, Thapanee Kiatphaibool, told Reuters.

Thailand has been successful in controlling coronavirus cases, but strict border controls have decimated its tourism industry, with revenues dropping by 83% as it went from 40 million visitors in 2019 to 6.7 million last year.

The golf quarantine programme is drawing only a small fraction of around 250,000 South Korean golfers who visited Thailand in 2019, but officials hope it will grow at the six approved courses which have specific health measures in place.

The South Koreans who arrived last week are staying in hotel rooms for three days and can go out on the course after results from their first coronavirus test come back negative.

They are tested again on the ninth and 13th days of their stay before being discharged from quarantine.

"There have been continuous bookings," Thapanee said, adding that the programme started by targeting short-haul markets carrying low to moderate risks such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Thailand has kept the number of coronavirus cases to 25,599 infections and 83 fatalities by sealing off its borders but the tourism industry, which contributes around 12% to its economy, has been badly hit.

In 2020, revenue dropped to 332 billion baht ($11.07 billion) from 1.91 trillion baht the previous year.

Each tourist in the programme will generate revenue of at least 100,000 baht, she said.

"Tourists could go and enjoy other destinations after quarantine, so there will be more revenue of at least two to three times the average," Thapanee said.

Artitaya Country Club’s Seoul office said the package cost 2.49 million won ($2,240) for a 15-day stay -- including meals but not flights -- with interest coming from Koreans doing business in Thailand, student-athletes and golf academies looking for private practice facilities.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat in Bangkok and Sangmi Cha in Seoul, editing by Ed Osmond)