The move comes as millions continue to lose their jobs including those linked with the tourism, travel and the airline sector. A YouGov survey, conducted in Thailand at the end of September, showed that nearly 25% of all employees of companies in the kingdom now fear that their jobs may be on the line with only 37% of those earning ฿15,000 per month or less indicating any sense of job security in these perilous economic times.
The Tourism and Sports Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, has revealed that the initial batch of Chinese tourists pencilled to arrive in Phuket, this week, will now not be arriving in the kingdom after all. It comes as a senior economic expert is warning the government that it risks flying the Thai economy into oblivion if the country does not reopen to tourism smartly for the upcoming high season. Pailin Chuchottaworn told reporters that if Thailand fails to reopen again to tourism with practical controls against the Covid 19 virus, it would be better if it scrapped the much-hyped Special Tourist Visa program just approved as the benefits would be, by and large, irrelevant.
The Tourism and Sports Minister has now revealed that the Chinese tourists expected to fly in this week, on Thursday, the first batch of tourists under the Special Tourist Visa programme, will not now be arriving after all.
Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn attributed the unexpected delay to the development of new processes to allow for the management of the tourists once they arrive in the kingdom. He said that the tourists were now rescheduled to arrive later in October.
In the last 24 hours, it has been suggested that the new target arrivals date is now October 25th.
The news comes after a top businessman who heads up a panel aiming to speed up Thailand’s recovery from the pandemic has gone on record and said that the new visa programme should be scrapped if Thailand cannot effectively open to foreign tourism in the coming ‘High Season’ months which traditionally runs from November through until the end of January.
Scrap the Special Tourist Visa says business leader if the country is not going to reopen its borders
Pailin Chuchottaworn, a highly respected Thai business executive, warned that the current government’s policy of keeping the country effectively shut to foreign tourism is unsustainable economically.
In recent months, this has been pointed out by an array of experts as well as business and industry leaders. Not only does foreign tourism account for a large segment of Thailand’s GDP, but the closure of the country’s borders is also impacting its trade and business development activities with the rest of the world including goodwill towards the kingdom, an intangible but powerful factor.
Global ratings agency Fitch has also weighed in with a similar warning.
‘I think it is very hard to see Thailand mounting an aggressive recovery in growth in the absence of some kind of improvement in the tourism sector,’ James McCormack, the global boss of sovereign and supranational ratings at the agency said in recent days.
Most Thais still oppose reopening to tourism
The problem is that, in Thailand, as in nearly every other country worldwide, there is stiff resistance to allowing inbound foreign tourism. The latest opinion polls still show a majority of the Thai public against reopening of the borders to foreign tourists.
The view is endorsed by senior Thai health officials and top medical experts who even want to roll back the existing provisions which allow for a trickle of incoming foreigners with links to the country, at less than 0.5% of last year’s levels.
Link between access to Thailand and economic performance of the kingdom clearly established
Since the onset of the government’s efforts last year to impose more stringent immigration requirements on foreigners living and holidaying in Thailand, it has emerged that there is a real link between Thailand’s overall economic performance and the ability of foreigners to access the kingdom and travel freely.
It has consistently been shown the lines between tourists, expats, visitors, business people and investors is quite blurred with overlapping relationships.
Mr Pailin pointed to the fact that 70% of Thailand’s GDP was linked with both exports and tourism both of which have been severely impacted by the shuttering of the kingdom this year.
The World Bank, last week, warned that the contraction of Thailand’s GDP for 2020 could be as high as 10.5% while the Bank of Thailand recently scaled the figure back from 8.1% to 7.8%.
72 hours Covid 19 test period means foreigners cannot manage to arrive in Thailand on a Monday
Mr Pailin was scathing in his criticism of current government restrictions, pointing out that a negative test for Covid 19 is being demanded of travellers to Thailand 72 hours before departure.
He makes the point that this effectively prohibits travellers arriving in Thailand on Mondays as test results are usually not available to foreign travellers on Saturdays and Sundays in other countries.
He also questioned an obscure requirement that travellers be accompanied by a medically trained escort although it is understood that such personnel are made available on current repatriation flights to Thailand organised by the government.
Loss of airlines and flight connections could mean any reopening will take time and be costlier
‘Currently, tourism is an important priority,’ Mr Pailin said. He cautioned that Thailand could end up precipitating a collapse of the economy through the policy being pursued.
He particularly warned that the effective closure of Thailand’s borders to the airline industry may prove difficult to reverse quickly if the shutdown continues. He was particularly concerned that any attempt to reopen in early 2021 may now not be possible.
‘If the country does not reopen, it will be hard for GDP to grow because the country’s economy depends mainly on the tourism industry and exports.’
Minister of Tourism highlights the prospects of a shorter quarantine period being introduced
Meanwhile, Mr Phiphat has underscored the government’s commitment to the Special Tourist Visa relaunch of Thai tourism which initially targets 1,200 visitors per month even though industry insiders still indicate that over 99% of last year’s visitor volume and foreign tourism revenue will be lost even if the government’s plan works without a hitch or controversy.
Mr Phiphat pointed to plans by his ministry to push for a shorter quarantine period of 7 days if the Special Tourist Visa scheme proves successful in the first 30 days of opening.
It was being reported on Thursday that the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand is now in favour of a plan to reduce the quarantine period on entering Thailand from the current 14 days to 10 days, a move which would allow for extra screening capacity and entrants to the kingdom under the currently strictly controlled regime.
Government, at this time, planning more flexibility of access for business travellers and investors
Thai officials this week have also been suggesting that they are moving to make access to the country more flexible to business travellers who are involved in investing in Thailand.
It is not clear how such access will work or whether business executives from countries with active Covid 19 cases will be allowed to enter.
Officials have also indicated that such visitors may not be forced to quarantine for 14 days.
Anucha Burapachaisri, a government spokesman, explained this week that the plans being considered are linked to businessmen considering investment projects in Thailand.
In the last week, it has been revealed that investment in Thailand’s flagship Economic Corridor project is down 12.5% since the Covid 19 emergency was declared in March this year.
There have also been indications from the government that it is reconsidering the criteria for investment in the project which comes with generous government tax relief measures, to allow a wider scope for potential investors.
A government spokesman also pointed to the fact that 11,000 travellers have already entered into Thailand under the successful programme being managed through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Many of these are western visitors including smaller employers and investors in Thailand who possess a work permit.
YouGov poll shows that 25% of Thai employees now fear for their jobs as economic clouds darken
The warning from Mr Pailin and the renewed impetus on opening up Thailand to foreign investment comes as a weighted and statistically accurate YouGov opinion poll, conducted from outside Thailand among the population, has revealed that at least 25% of Thai employees are now worried about losing their jobs.
The poll was conducted at the end of September and had a sample of 1,450 respondents.
It is estimated that at least three million people have already been laid off with warnings by industry leaders, particularly in the tourist sector, that millions more face losing their jobs if the situation in the kingdom does not improve.
Low paid workers less secure with only 37% indicating they felt job security at this time
The poll, significantly, found that job insecurity was highest among the lower paid.
Only 37% of those earning less than ฿15,000 per month felt their jobs were secure, at this time, while among those earning ฿45,000 or more, the figure increased to 57%.
The poll found that a full 67% of those polled felt that if they lost their jobs, it would be difficult to find one paying as well within three months given the recent economic downturn.
Thai airline workers in Hong Kong get the chop as well as thousands of airline employees in 2020
Among those fearing for their futures are up forty Thai employees employed by United Airlines in Hong Kong who were informed days ago that the airline is closing its hub in the former British colony and that they will be laid off from the end of October.
‘I have friends there who are over 50 and have to go to treatment for cancer. Their treatment costing millions a year had been covered by United, but now, they don’t have insurance,’ one staff member, Mimi, explained, ‘Their next steps will be difficult because Thai insurance won’t cover it for them.’
Tan, also one of the Hong Kong team members, told reporters this week, that she was ‘very stressed’ after being told that her job was ending at the end of October.
She had been only receiving 75% pay for the last six months
‘My colleagues are even more stressed because many of them just bought a house or car at the end of the last year and have payments,’ the 31-year-old explained. ‘I never thought I would face this kind of problem.’
Government trying to shore up airlines
It is the same story for all airlines who operated out of Thailand before the kingdom closed its airspace in early April.
Many are only managing to cling on with the promise of financial support from the Thai government but have also initiated job layoffs and salary cuts to survive.
Thai Airways, the former state airline now in bankruptcy protection, laid off 6,000 workers in May and a further 2,600 workers in September employed by subsidiary company Wingspan.