Thailand’s International Tourism Could Take Years To Recover

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With tourism accounting for approximately 20% of Thailand’s pre-Covid crisis GDP, the partial reopening of the country’s borders to foreign tourists on November 1 was a dangerous step to turn the economy around.

The Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) has made several guesses about how many visitors would visit Thailand in 2021 and 2022, all of which have been optimistically projected. However, they have been founded on hope rather than the reality of an uncertain tourist environment due to an increase in Covid-19 cases throughout the country and related border restrictions in most of the world.

The partial opening of borders to tourists from 63 countries comes when pubs, entertainment enterprises, and restaurants in most regions of the nation are either closed or not permitted to serve alcohol with meals.

Despite industry requests, Thailand’s government has declared that the reopening of night-time entertainment establishments would be delayed until January 15th. Concerns about ventilation and ineffective preventative measures in pubs, clubs, and karaoke venues were raised by a representative for the government’s COVID-19 administration.

The ostensibly quarantine-free admittance for fully vaccinated foreign tourists is false since it compelled travellers to remain in isolation for up to 30 hours in hotel quarantine until their Covid test results are received. To visit Thailand, you must complete a slew of paperwork and processes, including full vaccination certificates, a pre-paid hotel reservation, a USD 50,000 health insurance coverage covering Covid-19, and an online application for the Thailand Pass. Applicants have complained about difficulties and approval delays on the Thailand Pass website. As of November 4, around 50,000 applications have been submitted, with 12,607 approvals.

Since the lifting of restrictions on November 1, 30,000 tourists have arrived in Thailand. This is little compared to the number of visitors that visited in 2019 when approximately 40 million came. According to accounts, most visitors are not tourists but rather expatriate residents returning to Thailand.

Thailand’s partial opening to foreign visitors on November 1 is the third effort since the end of 2020. The Sandbox programme, first on Phuket and subsequently Koh Samui, drew 38,000 tourists between July and September, with a sizable percentage of returning expats. The Special Tourist Visa (STV) was only a tepid success.

With a relatively low vaccination rate, the reopening of Thailand to foreign visitors is seen as a significant danger. As of November 8, just 49.1 per cent of the whole population had been fully vaccinated. According to a Suan Dusit Rajabhat University poll of 1,392 respondents, 59.86 per cent oppose reopening Thailand to foreign visitors, while 60.10 per cent believe it is not the right moment.

Thailand is no longer the same nation it was before March 2020. GDP fell 6.9 per cent in 2020, putting an estimated 2 million people out of work. Many more people are unemployed in the massive informal sector. The accommodation, food service, entertainment, and transportation industries were the worst affected, demonstrating the country’s reliance on tourism.

In recent months, a spate of increasing prices for essentials and fuel has raised fears about inflation, with 2.38 per cent price hikes in October 2021. With the World Bank estimating poverty at 6.4 per cent and rising, inflation will exacerbate the woes of the poor throughout the nation.

Over the previous month, the number of Covid-19 cases in the nation has steadily decreased to roughly 7,000 per day, with mortality currently falling below 100 per day. Although immunisation rates in tourist areas like Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, Phang Nga, and Chonburi are over 70% of the entire population, vaccination rates in other places are much lower. Cases are exceptionally high in the four southern border provinces of Songkhla, Patani, Yala, and Narathiwat, where there is growing resistance to vaccines among sectors of the population.

Returning to pre-Covid tourist numbers is most likely out of the question for several years. Many nations, including China, are banning holiday travel for their citizens. Furthermore, there are other elements inside Thailand that might hinder a tourist comeback in the near future.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s emphasis on luring the ultra-rich seems to be founded on a notion rather than market research, as do proposals for attracting first-time visitors and affluent Indian tourists. The restricted Phuket sandbox, which opened in July of this year, did not funnel much money down to the little auxiliary companies that sustain tourists, including entertainment, massage shops, and small restaurants. Super-wealthy visitors will only help super-deluxe five-star resorts, the majority of which are owned by enormous businesses and not much else.

Historically, most visitors to Thailand have been price-conscious. Thailand has traditionally been a destination for backpackers, middle-income tourists, and a tiny minority of super-wealthy visitors. Countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and even Malaysia are becoming very competitive with Thailand. Due to their competitiveness and relative ease of admission into each nation, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Southern Europe are luring visitors from Europe this year.

Thailand’s most significant impediment to growing foreign tourism is the country’s bureaucracy. Government authorities have imposed onerous conditions on potential visitors who want to vacation in Thailand. Furthermore, according to recent reports, the procedure of entering Thailand has become quite dangerous.

If a tourist has a positive Covid test when they arrive or a negative test but is seated next to someone who had a positive test, they will be quarantined for 14 days at their own cost. This was not announced at the time of border opening. According to local media accounts, this has cost some travellers between Baht 50,000 and, in one example, Baht 350,000.

The relatively high costs of Covid tests at the airport, the 500Baht entry fee that will be implemented in 2022 and collected from a booth upon arrival, are putting people off from planning a trip to Thailand.

Joe Cusmano