Increasing unease at the hit to the Thai economy being caused by the ban on incoming foreign flights as both tourism and industry bodies implore the government to begin easing inbound travel restrictions. However, the situation even according to Thailand’s Tourism Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, is that the government is moving cautiously and is not prioritising tourism over the fight against the Covid 19 virus. The minister has suggested that while the government is working on limited access for foreigners and proposed tourism bubbles, it does not foresee a large number of incoming tourists before the end of 2020.
Concerns are growing in the tourism industry that the effects of the government’s ongoing restrictions on foreigners entering Thailand will have a devastating impact on the overall economy but also on long-established tourism operators. An industry leader warned this week that many of his members have just enough financial resources to get to the end of June before more dire repercussions materialise in terms of paying debts and maintaining even limited employment. Despite this, the Minister of Tourism, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, has suggested that he holds out little hope for any significant inflow of tourists in 2020.
The leader of a key tourism body, the Tourism Council of Thailand, has warned the government that many of its members may not have the financial resources to weather a continued downturn of the industry which has been starved of foreign tourists since late March and has seen a 97% reduction in domestic tourism in May with over a 99.3% reduction in April.
‘Most of us can hold on until the end of June, but many will stop paying off debts and bills when there is no income left,’ he warned.
Boss of Tourism Council implores top Thai officials to act swiftly even on ‘travel bubble’ plans
Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, the president of the body, urged the government to act swiftly to lift restrictions on international travel as quickly as possible.
He urged authorities to initiate the much-touted ‘travel bubble’ agreements with foreign countries expeditiously to allow the tourism industry to begin some semblance of recovery.
On Thursday, it was reported that on June 26th, the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, will personally attend a video conference with other countries to discuss this proposal.
Right now, interest is being reported from countries deemed safe such as Vietnam, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and China.
The tourism industry leader urged the government to use technology such as apps to track visitors after they arrive in Thailand for health screening purposes.
Minister remains cautious and admitted that ฿1.78 trillion will be lost in the 2020 tourism season
Thailand’s Tourism Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, sounded a note of caution.
He earlier revealed that the number of foreign tourists for the first five months of the year had dropped off by 60% with 6.69 million arrivals, most of whom arrived before the ban on incoming flights took hold on April 4th itself following a virtual halt of inbound tourism in the last weeks of March before the state of emergency was declared.
The minister warned that tourism spending this year in Thailand would be off by a whopping ฿1.78 trillion compared to last year’s performance.
Situation could be worse with even ฿2 trillion lost to the Thai economy according to bank economists
Indeed, this situation could even be worse according to an economic intelligence report from Siam Commercial Bank this week which predicted an 81% contraction in foreign tourism this year and a 73% fall in the overall figure which could see well over ฿2 trillion lost in GDP within the tourist sector alone.
Minster Phiphat says business people with invitation letters and people with hospital appointments will be given priority in July as inbound passengers
Mr Phiphat said that it would be wrong to encourage any belief that there would be an inbound flow of foreign tourists into Thailand in anything like large numbers for the rest of 2020.
He added that it was unlikely that Thailand would be in a position to welcome foreign tourists even in July.
‘In July, the door to our country will open only to two groups of foreign citizens: businessmen with an invitation letter from partner companies in Thailand, and patients holding doctor appointments in Thai hospitals,’ said Mr Phiphat.
Tourism ministry looks at technology apps to replace quarantine in some circumstances for passengers
The minister did suggest that his department is looking at tracking technology to avoid the 14-day quarantine requirement.
He also indicated that plans were being made for other health safety measures such as a test on all tourist arrivals, within days, at their place of stay in the kingdom.
Results from such tests would be available within hours.
He said that the tourism ministry was planning on targeting high-end tourists in the initial stage of Thailand’s tourism relaunch who would be able to stay in the country for an extended period, well beyond 14 days.
Domestic tourism may improve in June
Meanwhile, tourism operators are anticipating that the domestic tourism market for June will recover somewhat.
Over 1 million trips are anticipated. However, this will still be down by nearly 95% from last year.
Heightened concerns for Thailand’s economy even as people return to work in many sectors
There are heightened concerns about the Thai economy as research conducted by Siam Commercial Bank last week showed that 59% of Thai homes had 3 months excess liquidity at the onset of this emergency in last March.
Although the shutdown is being lifted, many are still returning to jobs on lower pay or part-time work.
Latest bank prediction is an 8.9% contraction in GDP for 2020 with a 14% drop in the second quarter
Siam Commercial Bank this week predicted that the Thai economy could contract by 7.3% this year with the fall-off in tourism and a further contraction in exports.
This week, CIMB Thai Bank went further and predicted an 8.9% contraction with a 14% fall-off in the second quarter.
A key concern is the accelerated appreciation of the baht which, despite zero tourist arrivals since the 1st of April has appreciated by a staggering 6.5% since then to Thursday the 11th of June which left it at ฿30.93 to the US dollar.
Senior industry leader shrugs off baht appreciation saying it is in line with a regional trend
While deep unease and concern about this has been expressed by the Bank of Thailand, this week, Supant Mongkolsuthree, the Chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said the impact may not have such a jar on Thailand’s economy as it was accompanied by similar currency fluctuations among Thailand’s regional competitors.
Chamber of Commerce leader calls on government officials to reform controls on international travel
In a separate development, the President of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Kalin Sarasin, is also calling on the government to reform its regimen on the control of international travellers.
He is proposing a Covid 19 test, days before they fly to Thailand.
‘They can be tested again upon arrival and required to go into self-isolation for 14 days,’ he suggested.
The top business leader who also speaks for the Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking, wants the government to prioritise access for foreign businessmen travelling to Thailand.
Priority should be given to business people travelling from Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan
He suggested that such incoming passengers would not need to use public transport and that the government could start by opening up the kingdom to safe countries.
‘These foreign arrivals will also be prohibited from using public transport,’ Kalin, who also oversees the Board of Trade, explained.
He expects businesspeople from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to be allowed to enter the country first. Mr Kalin also subsequently added China to this list of favoured originating states.