The comments for Minster Phiphat come as the world has been shocked with higher numbers of deaths and infections emerging from China. The coronavirus has wiped out over 86% of Thailand’s tourist arrivals from that market and is now severely impacting tourism within Asia and also from western countries.

Thailand’s Tourism Minister on Thursday predicted that tourist arrivals will be down by 50% for the first half of the year as he resurrected his proposals for allowing later opening hours to entertainment venues in popular hotspots.

Thailand’s Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn talks to a western tourist. On Thursday, Minister Phiphat predicted that tourist arrivals will be down 50% for the first 6 months of 2020 over the Corvid 19 Chinese coronavirus as he resurrected his proposal for allowing later opening hours to entertainment venues in tourist hotspots. On Thursday also, Cambodia’s strongman Hun Sen (inset left) was on hand to welcome American, UK and Cambodian tourists (inset right) left at sea for up to 13 days and rebuffed by Thailand when the luxury cruise ship Westerdam asked for permission to dock. There were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus aboard.

The Thai Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn told industry leaders on Thursday that he expects Thailand’s tourism numbers to be down by 50% for the first half of 2020.

The coronavirus crisis has already cut off over 86% of arrivals from China which is Thailand’s best market but it is also now severely impacting tourism activity within ASEAN and advance bookings from western holiday visitors.

Figures for opening days of February down over 43%

He told his audience that arrivals numbers for the first 9 days in February were already down 43.47%. 

However, he held out hope that after April, Thailand would see a resumption in tourists arriving in the kingdom from China.

He even went so far as suggest that planning would be needed to avoid congestion in Thai airports at that time: ‘We expect the situation to pick up in April and will be discussing with Airports of Thailand ways to manage flight schedules for Chinese tourists to reduce airport congestion.’

The crisis sparked by the virus is devastating incomes of the lowest and smallest Thai tourism operators

Across Thailand, small tourism operators such as tourist guides and tuk-tuk drivers are feeling the pinch. Even in Bangkok, one Tuk Tuk driver this week told Reuters that there is still a trickle of tourists from western countries with his daily earnings down from ฿1,300 to ฿400 per day.

In the short term, the outlook for the tuk-tuk driver may be even bleaker with travel experts now seeing a fall-off in advanced bookings from tourists in the United States, the UK and European countries.

Estimates of the damage to the Thai economy from tourism alone now range from ฿150 billion to ฿200 billion all depending on how fast China and the world return to normal.

Some estimates have put the price for the overall economic impact so far at ฿300 billion.

High-end cruise passengers rebuffed by Thailand

The comments by the minister came as over 1,400 high-end passengers from the luxury cruise liner Westerdam disembarked to a warm and cheerful reception from Cambodian leader Hun Sen on Thursday at the Cambodian port of Preah Sihanouk near Sihanoukville.

The event in which the Cambodian leader bestowed roses on the visitors was covered by BTV in Cambodia and live on the Cambodian strongman’s Facebook page.

The visitors aboard the ship including 651 Americans, 217 Canadians, 127 British and 91 Dutch tourists.

Refused permission to disembark by Thai ministers

The Westerdam was refused permission to disembark in Thailand initially on orders of the Thai Public Health Minster Anutin Charnvirakul which was later confirmed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who offered help to the vessel but said that the priority must be the safety of Thai nationals during the coronavirus scare.

The vessel was rejected by four other jurisdictions including Japan and the Philippines.

US and European ambassadors in Thailand lobbied for facilities to be extended to the cruise ship

It was reported that twenty passengers who had been ill, were tested by Cambodian officials and cleared for the virus.

The ship had been unable to find a port to dock for 13 days despite assurances from the World Health Organisation that no virus carriers were aboard.

It is being reported that ambassadors to Thailand from Washington and the European Union had been involved in negotiations on behalf of the American owned cruise ship which was later escorted to Cambodia by a Thai naval vessel.

Passengers aboard the Westerdam could be heard cheering with relief after their ordeal at sea finally ended yesterday.

Concern expressed by the minister over safety following the tragic death of two Russian children

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, the Tourism Minister expressed concern about the tragic boating accident in Phuket on Monday which saw two Russian children lose their lives. He said that more had to be done to preserve tourist safety in Thailand.

Minster pushed late opening hours and waiver of fees

Minister Phiphat told tourism operators that he was recommending a number of measures to the cabinet to help boost the country’s tourism prospects in the second half of 2020. One would be a waiver on visa fees for Chinese and Indian tourists.

The other idea being pushed again by the minister is that entertainment venues and businesses in tourism hotspots be allowed to extend their opening hours to 4 am.

Late opening hours for entertainment venues received a cool response late last year when first proposed

This proposal last September met with a cool reception from more conservative members of the cabinet notably the influential Interior Minister General Anupong Paochinda. It was also vociferously opposed by anti-alcohol groups.

Despite a claim in September by the minister that such a move would boost tourism income by up to 25%, Dr Mohamed Fahmy Tale, an anti-alcohol campaigner said he was shaking his head when he first read about the proposal.

Dr Mahamaned said, at the time, such a move would only serve to ‘set Thailand tourism back and put it in the klong’ and make it again seen as the capital of world sex tourism.

However, on Thursday, Minster Phiphat suggested that he would first of all survey and question tourism operators about his proposal on this occasion before progressing it.

Asians warned off travelling to Thailand

The suggestions and admission from the minister come as South Korea on Thursday warned Korean nationals about travel to other countries within Southeast Asia including Thailand.

The increased levels of fear over the outbreak correspond with shocking numbers emanating from China and a growing mistrust in communist authorities there regarding the outbreak.

On Friday, the death toll had reached 1,384 with 64,447 infections. There were only 552 infections however outside China with 33 of these in Thailand where no deaths from the outbreak have been recorded so far.

Indians dissuaded from visiting the kingdom

Also on Thursday, an Indian doctor, Dr Rajesh Chawla of Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, on the popular Indian TV show India Today, recommended that Indians not travel to the east due to the coronavirus and to avoid three countries including Thailand.

 ‘It is still safe to travel to a country where there haven’t been many serious cases of coronavirus. But, I think we should avoid travelling to the east mainly Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong unless it is absolutely necessary,’ he said.

Further reading:

Bombshell from China as deaths and infections surge linked with a lack of virus test kits in Hubei

Minister denies the government is prioritising tourism over safety tackling the Chinese corona virus

Bank interest rate cut anticipated as a devastated tourism industry battles with the Chinese coronavirus threat