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Fewer Chinese tour groups, more independent travellers to reboot SE Asia travel

The Thaiger

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Hoping that Chinese tourism is going to ride magically back into Thailand on the back of a gleaming red dragon and save the tattered tourism sector may be precipitous. Of course there are so, so many unknowns even the regular travel writers and consultants are scrambling to forecast a way forward.

For Thailand, the ban on international flights hasn’t even been lifted and expected to be in place until the end of May at least. Even then there will be plenty of questions with completely unknown answers.

• What restrictions will be imposed on international travellers? Covid insurance? Health certificates? Quarantine? Restrictions on internal travel?

• And which countries will be ready or able to travel? Parts of Europe, the UK and the US are still in the midst of their first wave of Covid-19 cases and the international count continues to rise at around 80-90,000 new cases a day over the past month.

• What restrictions will foreign governments put on outbound travel for their own citizens?

• Will the world’s middle class be able to afford the discretionary income to travel any time soon? Will they have a job? How strong is their local economies? Have they cut into their savings over the past three months?

• Once, and if, a vaccine is developed, will we have a vaccine stamp in our passports? …only those who have either had Covid-19 or had the vaccine can travel?

But back to the Chinese. They have already declared their aspirations to travel once their own outbound travel restrictions are lifted. Chinese tourism filled up around 27% of all arrivals into Thailand in 2019 (10,994,721 out of the total 39,797,406).

Phuket-based hospitality consultancy C9 Hotelworks surveyed “qualified travellers” living in China’s tier one cities were asked whether they wanted to travel abroad this year, with 49% responding in the affirmative.

David Johnson, Delivering Asia Communications’ CEO says that a 360 view of the results from over 1,000 qualified respondents concludes that tourism for the remainder of the year will be heavily leveraged by younger travellers in the age range of 20 to 29 years old.

Vietnam proved particularly popular for hopeful holidaymakers. 45% of respondents said they wanted to vacation there, not only because it appears to have successfully kept Covid-19 at bay, with fewer than 300 infections and no deaths reported, but also because of its proximity.

Bill Barnett, says that a post-crisis short-term ‘fear factor’ is expected for extended air travel, which will be manifested in a preference for short-haul, door-to-door flights, which is a key opportunity for China outbound to Vietnam.

“Other countries across the region will want to take advantage of those sentiments.”

The old tour bus cliche with the guide leading the way with the flag may have been an accessible entry point for first-time Chinese traveller, but with a looming unemployment crisis threatening the Chinese economy, it seems unlikely that 2020 will be the year in which many make their first foray abroad.

Even younger adventurers might tread lightly on foreign shores for a while, but if those with the means to adventure overseas choose to do so, it will probably be on their own, not as a group tour.

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Crime

Fishermen abuse and slavery cases solved “off-the-record”

Caitlin Ashworth

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Fishermen abuse and slavery cases solved “off-the-record” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Caitlin Ashworth

Many cases of alleged abuse and slavery at sea are not being reported to the Thailand government. The Thomson Reuters Foundation did an analysis on the claims of slavery and abuse on Thai fishing boats and found that the majority of complaints are not documented with labour ministry officials who solve issues “off-the-record”.

Many fisherman agree to mediation because they don’t want to waste time if the case goes to court, Suwanee Dolah from Raks Thai Foundation, a non-profit focusing on a variety of humanitarian and supports fishermen, mostly from Cambodia and Myanmar. Employers would rather not have a large number of complaints, Dolah says. One labour ministry official explained to Reuters that they encourage the employer and employee to mediate before submitting a complaint, if the case is minor.

Reuters obtained labour abuse complaints from 289 fishing workers lodged between 2o15 and 2020. Nothing was documented on the outcomes. Some fishermen seek help from charities rather than the government. Since 2015, charities have been helping out around 1,600 fishermen solve problems with their employer involving payment and abuse, according to Reuters.

Although complaints are supposedly getting resolved, a lawyer specialising in human trafficking told Reuters that labour inspectors tend to support the employers rather than the workers. He added that many workers are afraid of taking legal action.

“If the cycle of violations kept in the dark and solved one-on-one goes on without punishment, some say the employers may keep abusing the employees…. it will cause a never-ending cycle of rights violations.”

SOURCE: Reuters

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Low cost carrier Thai AirAsia ponders merger

Jack Burton

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Low cost carrier Thai AirAsia ponders merger | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Tassapon Bijleveld - Travel Daily News Asia

The CEO of Thai AirAsia says it may merge with another low-cost carrier to avoid cutthroat pricing wars once flights resume after the Covid-19 crisis subsides, and has admitted to conversations with other airlines. He says if tourism doesn’t resume by July, TAA will be forced to begin laying off employees, downsizing the company and its fleet to keep its business alive.

Thailand has 7 low-cost carriers which has forced a vicious price-war in the past five years providing cheap flights for people using the carriers in Thailand.

But local low cost carriers have suffered disproportionately over the past few months as the Covid-19 pandemic virtually shut down air travel in Asia and in many countries around the world. The Thai government’s restrictions on international and even domestic air travel have caused TAA serious losses. Some 40% of its revenue previously came from flights passing through Phuket’s airport.

The Thai franchise of Air Asia is losing about 1.2 billion baht per month due to the lockdown. Its 60 aircraft fleet is left stranded at airports according to Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of SET-listed Asia Aviation.

Tassapon, a major shareholder with 40.52% of Asia Aviation, the owner of TAA, told the Bangkok Post he’s already had conversations with other airlines about the possibility of a merger. He couldn’t disclose any details but says there isn’t a concrete plan, and other conditions must be fulfilled to enable a decision.

“A merger is possible if aviation in Thailand resumes with the same old fiery price wars. Furthermore now we have more limited revenue sources.”

Though domestic air services have taken off since May, passenger loads have not been good, as only those required to travel are doing so, and there is virtually no leisure travel.

SOURCE: Chiang Rai Times | Bangkok Post

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Transport

High speed railway linking Thailand and China takes another step

Jack Burton

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High speed railway linking Thailand and China takes another step | The Thaiger
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A high speed rail link between Thailand and China is closer to becoming a reality, according to Thai Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob. The signing of “Contract 2.3″ for the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section is expected in October this year. China has become a major player in the railway industry and, as a result, many countries, including Thailand, are working with China to develop their own high speed rail networks.

Following the meeting of the 28th Thai-Chinese Joint Committee, Chidchob said the 2 sides agreed on the 50.6 billion baht draft contract including the content on signaling and operation systems. The 253 kilometre rail route from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima in the northeast is part of a stage 2 project which will ultimately link Bangkok to NongKhai, bordering Laos.

The first phase covers a 125 billion baht link from Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima. The second, expected to cost 200 billion baht,will run 355 kilometres from Nakhon Ratchasima to Nong Khai. For the second project, Thailand is working with China’s State Railway Group.

The projects form part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, launched by President Xi Jin-ping 6 years ago, according to the president of the All-China Journalists Association.

“This Belt & Road Initiative project will help China integrate with the rest of the world and link the Chinese dream with the global dream.”

The Belt and Road Initiative was developed to bolster economic and social ties with 65 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe, covering an estimated population of 4.4 billion people.

“I think it is important. The project will help connect people in the two countries via Laos. It can help promote socio-economic development and prosperity in these two countries and also across the whole Asian region. China has made a lot of investments in Laos. Among them is the China-Laos Railway, running from Kunming to Vientiane.”

Under Contract 2.3, 80% of the payment will be made in US dollars and the remaining 20% in baht.

The signing is scheduled for October or sooner before the 5 year project commences. PM Prayut Chan-o-cha will preside over the signing ceremony at Government House.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | TNA

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