Chiang Mai tourism slowdown takes a toll on local businesses

PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

Chiang Mai’s tourism industry has drastically slowed down from the lack of travel due to the affects of the Covid-19 pandemic – the lockdowns and the travel restrictions. Tourists “vanished” during the April lockdown, according to president of the Tourism Association of Chiang Mai, Anantorn Hochindarat. Now, as the chilly, cool season approaches, when the northern province is the most popular for locals, Chiang Mai’s tourism sector is likely to remain “slow”.

The impacts from reaction to the pandemic has effected various people and business groups in Chiang Mai. Only 35% of the hotels have reopened, and those that are open report lower occupancy rates, Anantorn says. Many tourism businesses like spas, souvenir shops and tour agencies remain closed. The drivers of the red trucks, known as songthaews, used to do 3 to 4 round trips per day. Now only 1 trip per day is the average, and that’s with some drivers taking temporary leave.

“Over 1,000 tour guides are unemployed, while dozens of hotels have been put on sale after owners faced a liquidity crisis.”

Last year, Chiang Mai recorded 100 billion baht in revenue from 10.8 million visitors. 70% of the visitors where Thais while the other 30% were foreigners. After domestic travel restrictions were lifted, local travellers were only 20% from the same period last year. There have been travel promotions and events to help boost domestic tourism across Thailand, but some Thai nationals are still hesitant to travel because of health safety concerns.

“As the international market is stalled, if Chiang Mai can simply get the same chunk of the domestic market back within a year, typically 70% of the total, we should be happy enough.”

Apparently the slowdown of international tourists has been happening before the pandemic. After the 2018 Phuket incident where 2 tourists boats capsized in a storm, killing 46 people, tourist confidence was “shattered,” according to the director of Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Chiang Mai office, Pakkanan Winijchai. The Phuket tourist boats were carrying Chinese tourists, and many Chinese lost confidence in Thailand, she says. Chinese visitors make up one-third of overall international arrivals.

For the past 6 months, there has been a ban on international tourists, crippling travel destinations that relied on the foreigners for income. Thailand has been working on a way to get tourists in, but even the new Special Tourist Visa was a bust when authorities said they were preparing for a group of tourists from China to arrive in Phuket, but no one had actually applied for the visa. Even if the scheme does start up soon, Chiang Mai cannot benefit because it does not have any alternative state quarantine facilities to house the tourists for their mandatory 14 day quarantine upon arrival.

SOURCES: Bangkok Post | Wikapedia

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Caitlin Ashworth

Caitlin Ashworth is a writer from the United States who has lived in Thailand since 2018. She graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies in 2016. She was a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette In Massachusetts. She also interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia and Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida.

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