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High season? What high season? Thai tourism has a gap year.

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OPINION

High season. What’s happening to Thailand’s traditional tourist high season this year?

(Sounds of crickets and tumbleweed rolling down the streets)

Just as last year’s high season was wrapping up, the Covid-19 pandemic became real and much of the world closed its borders in March. Thailand hoteliers, tour operators and airlines had to endure a very quiet low season, obviously a lot lower than usual. But with the next high season looming the prospects of a sudden surge of tourists is slim. And thousands of businesses that were holding out for a bounce back over the traditional busy tourist season will now have to wait even longer.

The mandatory 14 day quarantine and copious paperwork, despite all the best intentions, is simply too much of a burden for the overseas visitors that might want to travel to Thailand. The uptake of the much-hyped Special Tourist Visa has been dismal. Now the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Ministry of Sports and Tourism have again scheduled a talkfest with the country’s leading hotel groups because, well, they don’t know what to do.

It’s simple. The hotel groups will say we need to find a way to re-open the borders and manage the Covid situation into the future. The public servants will nod in agreement and say they’ll “look into it”. There will be another ‘proposal’, and nothing much will change. Thai government officials seem to be waiting for the magic pill, a viable vaccine, to provide the safety net for a re-opening of the borders.

Meanwhile, the Thai government is caught inside a travel bubble of its own making. A travel bubble of ONE.

Around the country leaders in various industries are looking, assuringly, to the Thai government for leadership and a way forward. But as the 2020/2021 high season kicks in, there is only another 3 months of almost zero tourism on the horizon. Whilst Thais are being stirred out of their provinces with stimulus packages to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants, most aren’t travelling far and the hopes for a domestic-tourism-led recovery are fanciful at best.

Bryan Flowers is the CEO of the Night Wish Group based in Pattaya, owners of some of the town’s most popular bars. He’s vaguely hopeful but says they’ve been struggling.

“Unless the visa situation lightens, quarantine is scrapped and flights are increased, we do not expect a high season, 50% of our sales are online now, maybe that will increase if people have time off.”

“We really hope we can catch a high season in December but the general consensus is things wont get back to normal until after Songkran, of which we normally hit our lowest sales of the year in June-July, But I expect some huge momentum in traffic coming into Thailand once the quarantine is dropped totally.”

Scot Toon, the MD from The Pavilions Hotels & Resorts, Asia, says they’d hoped to start welcoming back tourists to Pavilions Phuket back in August.

“Like many we have made changes to our operations but maintained the five star standards of the resort we have focused heavily on the Thai market and insured that we changed our offerings to meet the needs and wants of this key market. We have found that the Thailand travel agents especially the ones that used to focus on inbound or outbound travel is now changing their focus on driving thai business to local destinations.”

“We have worked closely with domestic focused travel partners And have seen great pick up and bookings for October, November and December. Although nowhere near full it is helped us to reduce the burden of cash flow and move forward and grow our business from the zero base of being closed.”

“Long term we look forward to borders opening as there is not nearly enough domestic business for all the hotels in the island.”

Bill Barnett, MD and senior consultant for c9hotelworks.com, says this year’s high season is proving to be a ‘gap year’ for the industry.

“It’s a bit like a Bear Grylls episode of hotel managers parachuting into the jungle, rife with danger at every corner and a hike out o the wilderness into the light, and promise of the vaccine. Hard yards ahead but there are some green-shoots out there and Thailand will bounce back, it’s just a matter of time.”

But nothing short of a broad re-opening of the borders, along with dropping many of the restrictions and paperwork, will save Thailand tourism. But the country’s health officials are saying the risk is too great, especially as much of the world is now experiencing a major surge in new cases and deaths caused by Covid-19.

And even if they fling open the borders tomorrow, who would be coming? The volume of the world’s travellers have been reduced to a trickle and, around the world, international flights are few, and expensive.

Some of Thailand’s larger tour companies and hotel groups will be able to hang in there, surviving on limited re-openings of rooms or just keeping the doors locked and sacking staff. Smaller businesses have either already closed up shop or will not be able to weather any further extension of the tourist drought.

In Chiang Mai the weather is starting to cool with crisp mornings and evenings making the northern city a popular tourist hot spot through December, January and February. In Phuket, the wet season is over and the skies glow bright blue with cooling breezes and long stretches of clear beaches. In Bangkok the Christmas decorations are already up at shopping malls awaiting the flood of international tourists for the high season.

But the fate of this high season is already sealed and the return-to-normal simply isn’t going to happen. Whilst much of the tourism and hospitality industry thought that this year’s 2020/2021 high season would signal the start of a ‘new beginning’, it’s just turned out to be the beginning of a long haul for Thailand’s industry players, and the thousands they employ.

 

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mike

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Hopefully with a regime change, Thailand will resume to normal quickly

  2. Avatar

    Nipral

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 9:32 am

    About time to understand that your government goofed around with tourism, healthcare, security, economy and more !
    This season is dead and the next one probably…
    Take good care of you 41 (!!!) high-end (!!!) Chinese tourists. Hope they enjoy deserted
    Thailand.
    As far as the super-yachts tale is concerned we all had a good laugh !!!

  3. Avatar

    Isan John

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 9:35 am

    But nothing short of a broad re-opening of the borders, along with dropping many of the restrictions and paperwork, will save Thailand tourism

    it never will. Millions of wealthy tourists dream of visiting Thailand. We won’t have cheap Charlie anymore.

    • Avatar

      Nipral

      Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 1:20 pm

      Wealthy tourists have already visited Thailand. They’ll never be back !

    • Avatar

      J West

      Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 12:42 pm

      I was looking at a typical offering yesterday at Anantara Bophut Phuket. Was asking B 18,000 now under B 5000, and open booking at Xmas. It’s dead. I think Thai tourism has priced itself out of the luxury market. China model is not “the luxury market”. At B18000 pricing is three times 5 Star European pricing. I like Thailand, but not three times more. IMHO.

    • Avatar

      Mike Frenchie

      Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 11:30 pm

      Wealthy tourists? LOL… Chinese cheap charlies… and few pot belly retired living on their shrinking pension. Every luxury project has been a flop in Pattaya… and Phuket is a ghost town.

    • Avatar

      Mike

      Monday, November 23, 2020 at 8:01 am

      Within the tourism industry there will be thousands unemployed and hundreds if not thousands of businesses no longer operating. Once the tourists are back there will be huge opportunity for Thais to make money again. New businesses will spring up everywhere to cater for demand and the will be across all ranges. It’s likely that Thailand will see a return of the budget traveller in much bigger numbers. Poor you.

  4. Avatar

    Gosport

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 9:41 am

    low tourism season, riots high season. Be prepared for next season.

  5. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 10:06 am

    “Tumbleweed rolling down the streets”
    Where, where? What tumbleweed?
    lol

    The Thais have created a lot of resentment, and bitterness.
    Expats with businesses, and wives and families could not return without a lot of expensive restrictions. All overpriced and one big scam!
    what justification was there for only allowing Thai insurance?
    What justification was there for stopping flights out?
    what justification for stopping transit flights through the airport
    What justification was there for stopping the Laos and the Cambodians from coming into Thailand
    There are zero deaths and very few case in each country.
    Look at all the deposits lost to hotels, who knew the tourists could not fly in.
    Look at all the airfares lost to airlines because flights were not allowed out.
    LOOK at Thai airway! Look at how many tickets were not refunded! Yet they still fly!
    Here is a glaring example of a Thai scam.
    To fly in and go through all the hoop jumping the tourist has to use an agent, costing B10.000. Why? Because the agents kicks back to the immigration. The immigration could manage it, but they use agents for the kick backs.
    No, the Thais have killed the golden goose with their incompetence, lying, cheating, and scams.
    Some ex tourists will never come back. Some expats will leave and never return.
    Die Thailand. You had it. You lost it.

    • Avatar

      Nipral

      Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 10:12 am

      One single answer †o all your questions : CORRUPTION !

    • Avatar

      Jack Nipkant​

      Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 11:29 am

      These are so true. Pity for the country and ashamed with the government. The agent fee at 10,000 Baht of FKTLM, the very poor competency of the MP, the liars of the big scams of Phuket​ Model, Samui​ Model, Travel​ Bubble, STV and so on can be a campaign of #Thai Scams rather than Thai Smile.
      RIP.

  6. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 10:12 am

    Is it a given thailand will drop the quarantine requirement for those vaccinated? Nothing to date makes me think it’s a given. If I’m going to risk a vaccination I’m only going to places without any quarantine. Test me sure, paperwork I can live with, but no quarantine.

  7. Avatar

    jesus monroe

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 11:57 am

    They cooked the goose because they were staving.

  8. Avatar

    Edd.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2020 at 9:18 pm

    Over complicated visa regulations, exorbitant fees, to many local restrictions.
    Sorry but hate to say Thai tourism is destined to remain out of reach for world holiday makers.

  9. Avatar

    Tori123

    Thursday, December 3, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    Alas, Thailand can survive without farang. They don’t need them. It’s better without dirty farang. !! Really ! No Sympathy

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Opinion

PM takes over Thailand’s vaccine roll out. Public Health Minister found under bus – OPINION

Tim Newton

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OPINION

I went to register my name at a local private hospital in Phuket last Saturday for a place in the Covid vaccine queue. It was at the Bangkok Hospital Phuket. The first response from the reception area after the customary welcoming wai was “do you have insurance?”

I said yes, but that was not relevant to why I was here. I explained that I wanted to put my name on their Covid vaccine register as a former patient and enquire as to when they might expect to get deliveries of a vaccine.

The answer was clear. “I don’t know, nobody knows”. And, as far as we currently understand, that answer was correct.

For foreigners in Thailand, unless they happen to work for companies with “connections” or perhaps a public service that was earmarked in the first roll out of vaccines, the vast majority are doing more damage from scratching their heads at the moment.

We’ve contacted the Provincial Phuket Office in Phuket, and been told the same thing. Or “register at your hospital”.

The Thaiger has published numerous articles about the apparent vacillation of the government in regards to allowing private companies and hospitals to acquire their own stash of vaccines. First they could, then they couldn’t, then it was a “misunderstanding”, and then they could again, about 2 weeks ago.

But not ONE private hospital in Thailand currently has access to its own stocks of an approved Covid 19 vaccine. Not even unapproved vaccines, as far as we can tell. The Thai government are still putting up paperwork and red tape barriers preventing any private solutions to the country’s vaccine roll out.

Now I use the term “roll out” carefully. Because there hasn’t been a lot of rolling. There’s no doubt once the vaccines arrive on site there are plenty of front line doctors and nurses, and local organisers, who can efficiently and diligently administer the doses. That’s happened twice in Phuket and has now resulted in some 70,000 local people vaccinated. It’s happened in other places as well. But there’s certainly been no “military” precision (which you’d think these guys would be good at).

Somewhere between a current shortage of available vaccines, generally, and the Thai government being forced to sign off on any private orders, there has been no movement on the “private vaccine” front.

Dr Suwadee Puntpanich, a director at the Thonburi Hospital Group, told the Thai Enquirer that it’s currently “impossible for the private sector to bring in vaccines due to the government’s inaction”.

“We have sent numerous applications for vaccines to the Ministry of Public Health, to the minister, to the permanent secretary and have received no response”.

Given that the private medical sector would have contacts to negotiate and import drugs from international pharmaceutical companies, you’d think they’d be the government’s first phone call. But no. The government have established their own supply chains, dragging out the process until now we this third wave in Thailand and a vaccine roll out way behind peer nations and most of the rest of the world.

Last night the Thai PM decided to take control of the Kingdom’s vaccine roll out.

The Cabinet yesterday agreed to designate PM Prayut as the chief authority with responsibility for all decisions related to the pandemic. He will have sole responsibility for the country’s Communicable Disease Act, the Immigration Act, National Health Security Act, and the Medical Equipment Act, as well as several others. Critically, he will now be responsible for the procurement and distribution of vaccines, essential to combatting the outbreak in Thailand.

There has been some quite public friction between the PM and his outspoken Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in recent weeks. This decision to take over the decision making in Thailand’s public health sphere is the equivalent to throwing his Bumjaithai party political partner under the bus.

Last week there was loud calls from opposition parties and social media for the resignation of the public health minister. Everything, from the shortage of hospital beds, the lack of vaccines, the decision to let Songkran go ahead, largely unfettered, and a slow reaction to the current outbreak have all fallen on the desk of Anutin.

The PM’s taking over of decision-making for Thailand’s public health at the moment may be an indication of strong, determined leadership. It’s also risky with Anutin pulling the strings on a rump of MPs that secured the PM his majority in the lower house following the 2019 general election.

A petition hosted on Change.org, demanding the resignation of Public Health Minister Anutin, has surpassed an initial target of 200,000 signatures. The target has now been increased to 300,000. 211,600 signatures have already been collected.

Also, as of this morning, the requests for signed paperwork from Thailand’s private hospital sector have remained unsigned.

 

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Tourism

Thailand’s 3rd wave wreaks havoc on the Tourism Restart Plan – where are we now?

Thaiger

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PHOTO: Empty beaches of Hua Hin - AJ Wood

OPINION by Andrew J Wood

Thailand Ministers ponder the next steps to re-start it’s massive tourism industry, initially set for July 1, 2021 in Phuket. The plan may need to be overhauled as Phuket struggles to immunise the whole island in the wake of the third wave of hotspots. Phuket, prior to the third wave had already secured more than 100,000 doses and planned to receive an additional 930,000 doses by June.

This would be enough for 70% of the population – the target needed to achieve herd immunity. The spike in Covid-19 cases has interrupted this plan, as vaccines must also be allocated to other provinces urgently to help fight the latest outbreaks.

Not deterred, the Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn said he plans to meet next week with all relevant agencies to discuss the reopening plan, previously set for July this year. Eighteen provinces have now been declared red zones, with a partial lockdown and stay at home order. The alert warning was also raised across the rest of the country to orange, in all the remaining 59 provinces many of which had previously been green and considered safe.

Deciding to ignore expert warnings, the government allowed the Songkran holidays to go ahead, even adding an extra day. However no mass gatherings or water splashing were allowed.

(Songkran is the Thai New Year celebration which typically lasts 3-4 days, leading to a mass exodus of cities like Bangkok).

Last year, due to Covid-19, the holiday was cancelled. As a result of the holiday this year, a few outbreaks in Bangkok allowed the virus to spread widely. The Bangkok outbreaks centred on entertainment places; restaurant-pubs and nightclubs around the Thonglor area, plus a high-society wedding at a new riverside hotel, whose guest list included a number of government Ministers and prominent business leaders.

The Covid virus from these few hotspots were quickly spread throughout the whole country, as people returned to their homes for the holidays. Unfortunately this was a perfect storm for spreading the virus. Up until this point, since the beginning of the pandemic, Thailand had only recorded 28,889 cases and 94 deaths as at April 1, 2021. Eighteen days later this has risen to 43,742 cases and 104 deaths. An increase in cases of 51%.

During my recent visit to Hua Hin, empty beaches were very much in evidence already with the third wave leading to mass cancellations. Some resorts, previously 70-80% occupied, saw domestic arrivals decimated. Already hurting from a lack of international visitors, this latest outbreak was a most unwelcome guest.

The question of re-opening Thailand to Tourism, starting with Phuket, has obviously taken a knock backwards.

“The key determinant is insufficient vaccines, we are concerned about the re-opening timeline. We still need to discuss the vaccine administration plan. If the herd immunity goal cannot be achieved, we may have to consider opening only certain areas in Phuket”.

However, to continue with the same plan, even with restricted zones, will not be easy as long as the country still has increasing new daily infections, said Minister Pipat.

“Most importantly, we still have to hear from other countries that we already started travel bubble negotiations with about their confidence regarding the same timeline.”

Like Hua Hin, hotels in the North reported cancellations of more than 70% with Chiang Mai a cause for concern and currently experiencing increased coronavirus cases. Prior to the pandemic, the province was a popular destination to celebrate Thai New Year.

Regrettably Minister Pipat is in self-quarantine after being in close contact with Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, who was diagnosed with Covid-19. The Minster fortunately has already received his first vaccination jab last month (AstraZeneca) and will remain in isolation until next week when all tests are complete (3 swab tests).

ANDREW J WOOD

Andrew J Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has 48 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skål International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

The content of this article reflects the writer and does not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of The Thaiger.

 

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

A Thailand Covid update that you won’t read in the news

Tim Newton

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Tim Newton goes through some of the moving goal posts regarding Thailand’s Covid situation RIGHT NOW. Vaccines for expats, what will happen after Songkran, provincial restrictions, new quarantine requirements. Reading the tea leaves and reading between the lines, Tim provides his personal opinions on many issues expats and foreigners in Thailand are worried about at this time.

 

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