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Kiss the high season goodbye – Thailand’s long wait continues

The Thaiger

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Just as last year’s high season was wrapping up, the Covid-19 pandemic became real and much of the world closed borders back 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 upon us the prospects of a sudden surge of tourists has evaporated with announcements over the past couple of weeks.

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 vast majority of overseas visitors that still have the capacity and desire to travel to Thailand.

The proof is in the pudding and the uptake of the much-hyped Special Tourist Visa has been dismal. Here’s the problem…The hospitality and tourism industry are demanding ways to re-open the borders and manage the Covid situation into the future. Meanwhile Thai government officials seem to be waiting for the magic pill, the arrival of a viable vaccine, to provide the safety net for a widespread re-opening of Thailand’s borders to occur.

While all this is happening, the Thai government is caught inside a travel bubble of its own making. A travel bubble of ONE.

The local solution for a tourism reboot can only do SO much. 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.

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 has 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 an even longer haul for Thailand’s industry players, and the thousands they employ.

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Peter

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    Well written, to the point piece highlighting the problems.
    I was informed this morning that a 7-11 in Roi Et, Issan was once again demanding a mask must be worn before entry.
    Mass tourism and mass hysteria don’t make good bedfellows.
    The Thai elite and it’s population have to realise that a vaccine will not eliminate covid. The UK openly and honestly tells it’s citizens the hopeful road map out of this mess.
    Thailand encourages a mass mental hysteria with unrealistic expectations that will fail to be meet.
    One step forward, two back.
    Who is going to come to a country that could close it’s border at the drop of a hat?
    People aren’t stupid and for many, including me, this long period of reflection has helped me see Thailand for what it is.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:37 pm

      “The UK openly and honestly tells it’s citizens the hopeful road map out of this mess.”

      Wow.

      Even more out of touch with reality than I thought, and I didn’t think that was possible.

    • Avatar

      gosport

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 7:35 pm

      The UK openly and honestly tells it’s citizens the hopeful road map out of this mess.

      Check the death number in UK. Is that a hopeful road map?

      Before, UK took Herd immunity, now, they take vaccine. Boris has no road map but desperate for the miracle of vaccine. Locals are just puppets of Pharms

  2. Avatar

    Fabian

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 2:25 pm

    Day by day I see Phuket getting more empty, it’s so sad to see. People kept hope but they are all losing it, because the Thai government doesn’t even try to come up with a serious effective solution. The government is just like a bunch of kids playing in the sandbox.

    • Avatar

      Peter N

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 3:17 pm

      Unfortunately THERE ARE NO EFFECTIVE SOLUTIONS available at the moment, however much you wish there was. A huge advance in the science of imunologie / medicine is required before that is possible. IMO, a vaccine is NOT yet the magic bullet to open boarders, many think it is but there’s far too many unknowns at the moment. I’ve read reports from CREDIBLE sources (not faceache or twatter) that pfizer and modderna vaccines MAY allow vaccinated, asymptomatic people to be able to infect others. If correct, that would be an utter disaster for quarantine free travel. If a 100% accurate test able to reliably detect the virus within 2 days of infection, were possible to develop, THAT would be a game changer. (don’t hold your breath though)

      • Avatar

        Mr O

        Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 3:29 pm

        Yet More BS we are now in the peak season everywhere is decimated shops and businesses have closed up including some of the 7/11s . When will these people realise that until they lift the quarantine requirements then more businesses are going to close there doors .I doubt that Thailand will return to a busy tourism sector until late 2021 and by then it will be to late for many . Everyday we see announcements that are not achievable these people are fooling themselves if they think that everything will be back to normal in a couple of months “ wake up and smell the coffee beans “

      • Avatar

        Fabian

        Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 3:41 pm

        I know of course there is no perfect solution to contain the virus and let business get back to normal. But the government is a rumor mill and once in a while comes up with a ludicrous plan to start tourism again. This all creates uncertainty. People have no idea what to expect. They try to make the right decision but the government makes it impossible for them. A bit of a long term vision would be helpful. And some decent aid for the Thai people who are struggling in Phuket.

        • Avatar

          Peter N

          Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:26 pm

          The problem with your desires to get back to normal is, there is NO safe way at the moment to do that. The scientists do not know how long the immunity from a particular vaccine will last it will take months, if not years to answer that question. The result of the virus entering the general population of Thailand, and its non tourist economy would be catastrophic. Despite what you may think, the Thai government are not so stupid as to allow that to happen. Nobody is certain at the moment as to what the future holds, anyone professing they do, are delusional in the extreme, they may have an opinion, but that’s all it is! Regarding giving aid to the struggling I totally agree a decent government should, it’s cheap to borrow at the moment, plus, Thailand has huge reserves of foreign currency

          • Avatar

            Fabian

            Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:02 pm

            Where did I say they should get back to normal? I meant to say the opposite in my reply. Maybe I chose my words wrong but I’m just trying to say that some vision is needed instead spasmodically launching silly ideas that never work. Even if it is keeping the country closed than try to make Thailand less dependent on tourism. As you say, nobody knows what the future holds. And with no vision the economically is going the be really damaged.

          • Avatar

            James R

            Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 9:30 pm

            Peter N

            It seems to me some farangs lose their logic once they arrive in Thailand.

            It is true as you say, there is no effective solution at the moment.

            Some farangs think there can be some sort of magical special powers put in place which will allow millions of tourists to come back to Thailand immediately and so they blame the Thai government.

            In the UK for instance, there are some 40,000,000 tourists per year visiting in normal times but that is now near to zero.

            So tourism is being affected everywhere in the world.

            I am sure the vast majority of Thais who are not involved in the 85% of the economy which has not been affected by the downturn in tourism do not want millions of tourists bringing the possibility of mass infections to Thailand.

            In the UK we are starting to have vaccines now, it will still take us a year to get it distributed fully, Thailand might not start their vaccinations for another six months so they will be ever slower at getting back to normal.

        • Avatar

          Issan John

          Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:00 pm

          Fair comment, but that’s down to the government not saying “sh1t happens” but instead trying to give false hope.

      • Avatar

        Jack Sombra

        Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:06 pm

        ‘I’ve read reports from CREDIBLE sources’ Even the vaccine makers admit that. The Vaccine don’t stop you getting infected nor passing on the infection, what they do us reduce/eliminate symptoms and thus risk of death.

        Now with Thailand not even starting distribution until May things not looking good for tourist industry because that means they cannot take down quarantine until well after that

        • Avatar

          Issan John

          Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:07 pm

          How can it start distribution before May?

          HOW?

          The Pfizer vaccine is way too expensive, at double the cost of the Moderna vaccine and well over ten times the cost of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the AstraZeneca vaccine which looks likely to offer similar protection as well as reduce or stop transmission hasn’t even completed trials yet.

          Even if it bought the Pfizer vaccine, it would be impossible to distribute it here as it has to be stored and transported at -70c to -80c and Thailand doesn’t have the capability to do that, while the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored and distributed just like any ‘normal’ vaccine, at normal fridge temperature.

          You’re blaming Thailand for not having something that doesn’t exist!

        • Avatar

          Issan John

          Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:09 pm

          “Even the vaccine makers admit that”

          The problem is that they DON’T “admit” it, but just avoid talking about it.

      • Avatar

        Issan John

        Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:58 pm

        “I’ve read reports from CREDIBLE sources (not faceache or twatter) that pfizer and modderna vaccines MAY allow vaccinated, asymptomatic people to be able to infect others. If correct, that would be an utter disaster for quarantine free travel.”

        I’m not suggesting I’m a “CREDIBLE source” (far from it) but I’ve been saying that here for a long time, only to be roundly poo-pooed by many here (even some who are otherwise rational).

        AFAIK there is NO evidence at all that the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines do anything at all to stop transmission. NONE. Even the manufacturers have never suggested or hinted that they do, which is what gave me doubts in the first place as they’ve been very careful to tip-toe around it when questioned, emphasising that the vaccines prevent symptoms developing, never suggesting anything more.

        Unbelievably, at least to me, neither Pfizer nor Moderna tested any of those in their trials for Covid apart from those who were symptomatic; had they done so this would have been known, in detail, beyond any doubt. Because they failed to do so, though, and because countries are already vaccinating, it’s going to be next to impossible to determine with any accuracy and in the short term if they stop or reduce transmission.

        It’s possible (even probable) that the AstraZeneca vaccine does, but by the time it’s fully tested and approved millions will have already been vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and they almost certainly can’t be vaccinated again with a different vaccine (at least not soon). In the UK, that could be as much as a third of the population, as the UK has already bought that many doses from Pfizer.

        As you rightly say “that would be an utter disaster for quarantine free travel”. The countries that have rushed to approve a vaccine that hasn’t been properly and fully tested, spearheaded by the UK, are directly responsible for that.

        Countries that have rushed to approve the vaccine, such as the UK, without knowing the results

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:40 pm

      Peter N beat me to it.

      THERE IS NO EFFECTIVE SOLUTION.

      “The hospitality and tourism industry are demanding ways to re-open the borders and manage the Covid situation into the future.”

      BUT THEY CAN’T COME UP WITH ANY WAYS! … AND THEY’RE THE HOSPITALITY EXPERTS!

    • Avatar

      Alte Ledertasche

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      I love it.

      Patong – a Ghost town now – Bangla Road does not stink like piss anymore, you can get a parking place at beachroad any time you want, the usual drunks are in Europe or elsewhere at home and Junk Ceylon rip off mall is empty.

      The beaches in the south are empty and silent, rental prices are down and restaurants – if not already closed / there have been to many crap places anyway, same as all the massage shops – having nice promotions and reasonable prices, traffic is less as well.

      The sun still shines, great stuff. All is good.

      • Avatar

        Peter

        Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 10:36 pm

        Another fool who doesn’t understand simple economics.
        Maybe this flow chart will help you –
        Zero tourists = zero income = zero businesses open = zero rent and rates = zero spending on infrastructure = Phuket falling apart.
        Is that simple enough to explain why your selfish attitude ends in disaster.

        • Avatar

          Alte Ledertasche

          Thursday, December 10, 2020 at 8:42 am

          Your flow chart is irrelevant for me and my family.
          There is a simple rule in life: spend less than you earn and invest your savings. By investing your savings wisely you are able to make money work you which reduces the time you work for money.

          As my income comes -for now and a forseable future time – from abroad and I – luckily – have not invesyed and never will invest anything in Thailand the current situation suits me well and I am taking advantage of it same as the tourism industry did the last years ripping of their customerswith low quality products, crap service sold for highly inflated prices.

          Finally if Phuket and Thailand falls apart I personally dont care I not plan to stay here forever.

      • Avatar

        ronn

        Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 11:45 pm

        Sounds marvelous and heavenly. I may move back to Thailand

  3. Avatar

    Graham White

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    The government doesn’t give two hoots about the small businesses going under. They don’t count in any statistics. They only play for the big boys who see the future as high end big spenders. They don’t want the low end to spoil it.

  4. Avatar

    Richard Renwick

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    I kissed the high season goodbye months ago. The 2021 high season won’t happen either. As ever in Thailand for every tiny step forward there are 5 giant steps backward.

  5. Avatar

    Peter

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    I fear the pessimism shown is well warranted.
    From a bad start i feel the AstraZeneca vaccine may well address a lot of the worries expressed above.
    Easier to scale up to mass production, a couple of dollars a piece, strong possibility it will stop onward transmission and far easier to transport and store.
    Once production teething problems have been sorted out, the UK will be swimming in the vaccine.
    When Billy Smarts Thai Circus produces and distributes this vaccine is anybody’s guess.
    For those expat ‘i’m alright Jack’s’ in Thailand you better hope the covid tsunami doesn’t arrive anytime soon.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:12 pm

      AstraZeneca are already set up in Thailand to produce and distribute the vaccine for ASEAN – all they’re waiting for is trials to be completed and approval given.

  6. Avatar

    Graham Smith

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    It is a good awakening for very many what Thailand is for country, far from what many for several years imagined sigat it is or was. But no one is hanging their lip for Thailand. They have much more to research, improve and change before it becomes true regarding tourist floods again. You have to work for money, they understand that now. So, sorry all sugar dads, a long wait ahead.

  7. Avatar

    Jason

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 4:35 pm

    So many people have been saying in comments on this site and other sites like the Bangkok Post’s site that every measure so far taken by the Thai Government has been an absolute “turn off” to visiting Thailand, that no one will come….guess what?….no one is coming!! Those who travel for holidays usually have two weeks. I feel for the people of Thailand and those whose livelihoods depend on tourism. The plain truth is that people from my country Australia, can’t come anyway. Ours is one of only two countries in the world that bans it’s citizens from leaving the country. So it’s a double ban. I do hope to return to thailand one day. I really think it’s time Thailand bring back their ex pats, because we won’t be coming, so maybe ex pats can bring some much needed income.

    • Avatar

      Issan John

      Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 5:18 pm

      … and “guess what?”

      Despite those same people saying that they won’t go to Thailand because of the closed borders and quarantine but will go to Mexico, the Seychelles, or elsewhere instead, the reality is that they’re NOT going to Mexico or the Seychelles instead even though they’ve opened their borders with no quarantine! Even without the competition from Thailand and its neighbours!

  8. Avatar

    luca

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 6:43 pm

    It seems that Thailand has made the same choice as its mistress China, the elimination of the virus, this was possible in China with a very small reduction in GDP because it alone is a market for one and a half million people. In fact, the Thai economy is expected to lose around 10% of GDP this year, and 2021 will probably also be a year of loss.
    I do not think that at this point it is worth reopening tourism until all the Thai population is vaccinated, 2022 will be the year of reopening but it is not known if there will still be tourists interested in visiting cities such as Phucket, Samui, Pattaya etc. that after two years of closure will be a desert.

  9. Avatar

    EdwardV

    Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    Any businesses holding out for high season were deluding themselves. Fact is high season was lost two months ago. The vast majority of tourists plan and book trips at least 2-3 months in advance. Few can travel at the drop of a dime. European airlines started adding dozens of flights a day to the Caribbean and Mexico back in October, that was when high season was truly lost. As for all that pent up demand, don’t believe the hype. If and when the day arrives that Thailand finally throws open the doors again, yes there will be a rush to visit. However it will be short lived and less than expected. You really think people are going to be looking forward to a 12-18 hour flight to Thailand again? Heck even the Chinese have lowered Thailand on their interest level because the 5 hour flight is too long. Many people are afraid to fly, afraid to travel and don’t have as much money as before. Even with a vaccine, it’s not going to be like before. It’s going to take 3-4 years of a new normal before Thailand even gets within sight of their 2019 numbers. That might not be such a bad thing if the country can adjust before hand.

  10. Avatar

    tour

    Thursday, December 10, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    my 2020 season is starting today. going back again

  11. Avatar

    J West

    Sunday, December 13, 2020 at 11:23 am

    Every day we read of more “foreigners” arriving in Thailand covid positive. They get on the plane negative and arrive in Thailand short hours later as potential superspreaders. How can anyone think that opening for general foreigner tourism is a good idea? Thailand does have good hospitals, but nothing that could handle a spike in local transmissions like in the EU, USA or India. China had to weld shut doors into their Wuhan condos. Imagine Bangkok on total lockdown where thousands were dying every day.

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