Needless to say, Thailand’s tourism sector, considered a lifeline to an already battered economy, has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Now the government is rethinking its strategy for the Covid era… The new tourism revival strategy is “quality over quantity”, target big spenders seeking privacy and social distancing, rather than try to attract large numbers of visitors.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Thailand’s tourism minister said the pandemic provides an opportunity to reset the sector, which had become reliant on Chinese group tours and backpackers. Once the nation’s borders are reopened and so-called “travel bubbles” are agreed upon, marketing efforts will target wealthier individuals who want holidays with minimal risks.
The minister says the government will initially allow small numbers of arrivals, such as some businesspeople and medical tourists. It’s also working with the travel industry to identify and invite individuals in target demographics, which will most likely include previous visitors to luxury resorts in the islands of Phuket, Samui, Phangan and Phi Phi.
Phuket is “a prototype” because it has all the needed facilities and infrastructure in place. Visitors may have to pass a Covid-19 screenings before travelling and upon arriving, choose a single resort or island and remain for a minimum period of time, presumably 14 days.
The “high-end visitors” will be able to travel freely while they’re on the island and be allowed to leave for home or other destinations in Thailand once the minimum number of days has passed. According to the minister, Thailand plans to court such visitors, possibly during the winter months, when European and American travellers seek out warmer climates.
“One person can easily spend as much as five by staying at the finest hotels. Full and free travel should become a thing of the past.”
Thailand is not the only country grappling with the question of how and when to reopen for visitors. Across south east Asia, one of the most tourism-reliant regions in the world, hotels and travel businesses are slowly reopening as countries that have succeeded in flattening their virus curves ease lockdown restrictions.
The minister says Thailand’s first few travel bubble pacts, probably with nations like as Japan and Australia, probably will not be ready until at least August, and that Thailand also is mulling a program to allow visitors from specific low-risk Chinese cities and provinces.
Thailand’s borders are currently locked to all but repatriation flights and the most essential travel through June 30. Most restrictions on domestic travel were lifted this month. The goal is for Thailand to have 10 million foreign arrivals this year – a quarter of the 2019 tally.
The tourism sector will account for about 6% of GDP in 2020, down from 18% last year, says the minister. The lack of travellers is one reason Thailand’s economy is forecast to contract as much as 6% this year (some estimates are as high as 8.9%).
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