Tourism clamp clouds hopes for Thai revival

Tourism clamp clouds hopes for Thai revival

Tourism clamp clouds hopes for Thai revival
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HONG KONG – Hopes for Thailand’s economic recovery have been dealt a blow with the suspension of a quarantine-free programme for international tourists, say figures in the all-important hospitality industry who are readjusting their outlook for 2022.

“We are kind of seeing a replay of 2021 where … hotels are focusing on domestic travel once again,” said Bill Barnett, managing director of consultancy C9 Hotelworks in Thailand. He said that winter in the northern hemisphere was always a key driver for Thailand’s tourism sector. Sun-starved people from the region, such as those from the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and Russia, would flock to the country’s beaches and other attractions.

The quarantine-free programme, called Test and Go, was launched on November 1 as Thailand reopened to tourists from 63 countries. Due to a spike in Covid-19 infections, new registrations for the programme were halted on December 21 and on January 7, the programme was suspended indefinitely.

Barnett said the timing of the suspension “was not exactly very good”.

After the suspension, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered the launch of a new tourism campaign under the theme Amazing Thailand New Chapter. As with the paused programme, it is aimed at reviving the hard-hit tourism sector, a mainstay of the country’s economy.

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The government also plans to introduce an entry fee of 300 baht ($9) for incoming tourists, starting from April, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Thailand reported 8,167 new cases last Thursday, bringing the national tally to 2,300,457, data from the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, or CCSA, showed. The Omicron variant of Covid-19 accounted for 70 per cent of the cases reported for the week to January 8, according to the Bangkok Post. The CCSA forecast that the number of daily new cases could jump to 20,000 by the end of January if no serious measures are taken.

Despite the suspension of the Test and Go program, international tourists can still enter Thailand through a so-called Sandbox program, which allows travelers access to some places in the country after spending at least seven days within a Sandbox destination. In addition to Phuket in the south, the government decided on January 7 to add the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Tao and Ko Phangan to the programme from January 11.

Panicha Thananaken, country manager of online travel company Traveloka Thailand, said demand for domestic travel has mitigated the impact of the Test and Go programme suspension.

“Over the longer term, we remain optimistic about international travel,” said Panicha, noting that Southeast Asia is home to one of the world’s fastest-growing markets driven by a large middle class of roughly 300 million people with a strong interest in travelling and a thirst for international aspirations.

 

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Long-term optimism

Businesses in the Thai tourism industry have called on the government to reconsider the entry restrictions for foreign tourists.

William Heinecke, chairman of hospitality company Minor International in Thailand, said “a more pragmatic approach should be considered” as entry restrictions may cause more harm than good, particularly when domestic transmission of Omicron has already taken root. The spike in cases fueled by Omicron has also affected Thailand’s economic outlook.

Kirida Bhaopichitr, director of the Economic Intelligence Service at the Thailand Development Research Institute, said she had to lower the forecast for Thailand’s GDP growth this year to 3-3.5 per cent from 3.5-4 per cent after the latest spike in infections.

Indonesia opened its booster campaign as the country records rising infections driven by the Omicron variant.

Elsewhere in the region, the Philippines reported 32,246 new cases on January 12, the second-highest single-day tally since the pandemic began in January 2020.

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Officials blamed the spike on high mobility, poor compliance with safety health protocols during the holiday season, and the fast-spreading Omicron and Delta variants.

Courtesy: China Daily

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