Many travellers with hopes on travelling to Thailand are waiting to see when they will be given the green light, to enter the kingdom.
Yutasak Supasorn, Governor of the Thailand Tourism Authority (TAT) says “It is still dependent on the outbreak situation, but I think at the earliest, we may see the return of tourists could be the fourth quarter of this year.”
He adds that there will possibly be limits on who they will go and see.
“We are not going to open all at once,” he adds. “We are still on high alert, we just can’t let our guards down yet. We have to look at the country of origin [of the travellers] to see if their situation has truly improved. And lastly, we have to see whether our own business operators are ready to receive tourists under the ‘new normal’.”
Similar versions of this strategy are already under discussion in the region — known as “tourism bubbles.” Basically, a country is going to open borders, but only for specifically targeted destinations that also have their Covid-19 situation under control.
When Thailand is open to foreign visitors, it is likely that they will only visit those areas, Yutasak says.
“We have studied the possibility of offering special long-stay packages in isolated and closed areas where health monitoring can be easily controlled — for example, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Samui. This will be beneficial for both tourists and local residents since this is almost a kind of quarantine.”
Yutasak says that they are finalizing a tourism restart framework, but most decisions are made by the CCSA (the Covid-19 Situation Administration Centre) that will decide on the best time to open the border.
Phuket-based Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks asia-focused consultancy, said that the international tourism revival would require “baby steps.”
“The next step is bilateral agreements between countries,” he says. “Thailand’s good standing in the face of the crisis with China, along with strong pent-up demand, make it a logical short-term solution for overseas tourism to return to the Kingdom.”
For now, Thailand has no chance and the borders of the country are firmly shut.
The Thai Civil Aviation Authority (CAAT) issued a temporary prohibition until the 30th of June on all international commercial flights, excluding repatriation flights. For 14 days, the Thais returning on such flights have been placed in quarantine facilities.
Meanwhile, the Thai Cabinet decided on 26 May to prolong the state of emergency in the country until 30 June.
Thailand has largely managed to escape the virus ravages that many other countries around the world witness.
State starts promoting domestic tourism, eases lock-in measures
Domestic tourism in Thailand
Thailand is now focused on domestic tourism reopening in June, Yutasak points out. Resorts and hotels have already been given the green light to reopen in certain tourist destinations across the country, even at the popular beach resort of Hua Hin, some 200 km (124 miles) south of Bangkok.
In May, regional lock-down measures implemented at the end of March have been easing.
Even malls, markets, museums and some tourist attractions have reopened and more will follow. For example, Bangkok ‘s Grand Palace will reopen on 4 June.
While national parks, theme parks, stadiums, spas, massage shops and cinemas are still closed, some media outlets are likely to be reopened in June.
Restaurants — limited to delivery and take-out only by the end of March — may now permit customers to dine, but alcohol is prohibited and must comply with strict social separation measures. Pubs and night clubs remain closed, with a curfew from 11 p.m. At 4 a.m.
Increasing services, including rail and bus services, are offered to local transport networks, while the number of domestic airlines increases.
However, Phuket International Airport remains closed until further notification.
The most popular tourist island of Thailand emerged as a hotspot for coronaviruses in March with the highest per capita infections in all of the 77 provinces in Thailand.
Consequently, Phuket officials imposed rigorous lockdowns and undertook an intensive drive to test residents.
In recent days, however, when cases are slow to a trick, struggling players in the travel industry question the continued closure of the airport in the island when the rest of the country is open to domestic flights.
“The Phuket tourism sector at the moment is sad, stunned, annoyed and dismayed at the lack of a defined plan to reopen the airport,” says Barnett.
“The recent 24-hour notice by CAAT of a sustained closure was a hard pill to swallow for a damaged industry. There is no point to open hotels, while the airport is the trigger for reopening. The vague notice and lack of a clarity on when the airport [will reopen] makes it impossible for businesses to plan forward actions.”
Local firms are struggling
It’s just a drop in the bucket even when domestic tourism starts to start in some provinces.
According to government data , nearly 40 million tourists visited Thailand in 2019. The TAT is estimated to visit only between 14 and 16 million this year.
Financially stressed hotels that need cash flow have already started to sell hotel rooms and vouchers aggressively, says Barnett, while also looking for relief in the local market.
“Staycations and road trips are being touted but in a country where tourism represents 12 to 14 percent of the GDP, these small bites are not going to bridge the road to recovery,” he says. “Broader ASEAN bilateral agreements and getting airports open and airlines back in the air is what’s needed.”
Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, one of the most popular shopping destinations in the region, reopened on 9 May. But even though Thais and ex-pats have returned, vendors can not afford to live long enough foot traffic, says shop owner Tassanee Larlitparpaipune.
“International tourists make up about 50 percent of my customer base,” she says. “Most are from Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.”
Tassanee had four clothing shops in the market before Lunar New Year’s holiday in January. Since then she has shut down two and now plans to shut a third and shift her focus to online orders.
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