Long Road To Recovery For International Tourism In Thailand
From Murray Hunter
With nearly 20% of Thailand’s pre-Covid-19 gross domestic product related to tourism, the partial reopening of the country’s borders on Nov 1 to international tourism was a risky move aimed at turning around the economy.
There has been a whole range of guesstimates optimistically made by the Tourism Authority of Thailand on the number of tourists expected to visit Thailand in 2021 and 2022.
However, these were based more on hope than the reality of an unpredictable tourism environment due to a surge in worldwide Covid-19 cases and corresponding border restrictions across much of the world.
The partial opening of borders to visitors from 63 countries comes at a time when bars and entertainment businesses remain closed across Thailand and while restaurants in most parts of the country are not allowed to serve liquor with meals.
The supposed quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated foreign visitors has been found to be not completely accurate as visitors are required to stay in isolation for up to 30 hours in hotel quarantine, until their Covid-19 test results come through.
There is a host of paperwork and procedures required to enter Thailand, which include full vaccination certificates, a pre-paid hotel booking, a US$50,000 health insurance policy covering Covid-19 and the Thailand Pass, to be applied for online. The Thailand Pass website has also been criticised by applicants for glitches and approval delays. As of Nov 4, some 50,000 applications have been made, with 12,607 approvals.
Some 30,000 visitors have arrived in Thailand since Nov 1, negligible compared to the nearly 40 million tourists in 2019.
There are also reports that a sizeable number of visitor arrivals are not tourists, but returning expatriate residents. A 2010 study estimated that there were 2,581,141 expatriates in Thailand, with 80,000 new retirement visas issued in 2018. This didn’t include long-term visas issued by Thai embassies abroad.
The reopening of Thailand to international tourists is considered a major risk, given the relatively low vaccination rate. Only 49.1% of the total population was fully vaccinated as of Nov 8. A survey by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University conducted on 1,392 respondents found 59.86% rejected the plan of reopening Thailand for international tourists, while 60.1% said it was not the right time to open the country.
Recession causes extreme hardship for many
Thailand is a very different country from what it was before March 2020.
GDP plummeted by 6.9% in 2020, with an estimated 2 million people thrown into unemployment, and many more underemployed within the large informal sector.
The accommodation, food services, entertainment, and transportation sectors were the worst hit, indicating the importance of tourism to the country.
Tourist spots such as Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Hat Yai, and Chiang Mai resemble ghost towns in parts, with many businesses closed down permanently. Over the last couple of months, a bout of rising prices for staples and petrol has raised concerns of inflation, with 2.38% price increases in October 2021. With poverty estimated by the World Bank at 6.4% and on the rise, inflation will add to the problems of the poor across the country.
Covid-19 cases across Thailand have been declining gradually over the last month to around 7,000 cases per day, with deaths now under 100 per day. Although vaccination rates around tourist regions are around 70% of the total population, other areas are significantly lower.
Cases within the four southern border provinces of Songkhla, Patani, Yala, and Narathiwat are still very high, and there is a growing resistance to vaccinations by segments of the local population.
In 2019, 4 million Malaysians, or 10% of Thailand’s foreign visitors came across the Malaysian-Thai border to visit Thailand. With no declining trend in cases on the horizon, it will be very difficult to see many Malaysian tourists coming to Thailand. - FMT
Murray Hunter is an independent researcher and former professor with the Prince of Songkhla University and the Universiti Malaysia Perlis.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.
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