Countries in South America and the Indo Pacific region are, right now, hoovering up Thailand’s regular tourists with another contingent having already decided to stay at home for Christmas in western countries and wait until after April 2021. Meanwhile, Thailand’s government is caught between public opinion which is against opening up the country’s borders and fear of losing its current level of control against the Covid-19 virus while watching tourism revenue losses mount to levels that are driving the country’s tourism operators to ruin.
Thailand’s Tourism Authority has announced a more relaxed regime from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as reports emerge that Royal Thai Embassies in western countries have begun to allow tourists from the United States, the UK and Europe to apply for tourist visas with stiff entry requirements including showing funds of ฿500,000 for the previous six months. The news comes as the tourism industry, on its last legs, is contemplating the real prospect of a complete wipeout for the critical high season and at the same time as it is reported that the Thai PM has rejected a shorter quarantine period being proposed.
Despite the positive news, in the last 72 hours, of a successful vaccine from international pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Thailand’s tourism industry remains effectively shut to the mass levels of tourism urgently required to stave off collapse of its tottering tourism industry.
Previous estimates for the much-heralded Special Tourist Visa were for 1,200 visitors per month while government sources, this week, indicated that for the first five days in November, a total 1,465 foreigners had entered the country including those with strong links to Thailand who are effectively returning home.
This is the equivalent of approximately 9,000 people per month compared to an average of 3.2 million a month or 0.3% when compared to 2019.
On Tuesday, in response to persistent demands from regular visitors to Thailand from western countries, in past years, during high season, the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced what it termed relaxed conditions for visitors seeking tourist visas through Thai Embassies and consulates worldwide and ultimately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tourism Authority Executive Director was bullish that Thailand’s tourism industry is recovering
Ms Thapanee Kiatphaibool, the Executive Director for Tourism Products told the media that Thailand’s tourism sector is beginning to recover as the government aims to safely open up the kingdom.
The current period from the end of November to the end of March 2021 may be a critical one for many of the hotels and tourism establishments still holding on throughout the country and in particular in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui.
So far, the collapse of the tourism industry has seen thousands of small scale business owners shut and millions of casual workers left unemployed.
Business owner commits suicide in Krabi
On Tuesday, a 41-year-old tourism business owner, a woman named Phimprapha was found dead in the Khao Phanom district of Krabi in what local police believe to be a suicide.
The woman had built up a thriving boat rental business turning over millions of baht in income before it collapsed this year due to the Covid 19 crisis forcing her to sell her boats and return home to live with her mother in the past few months.
US, UK and European tourists may soon begin trickling in on tourist visas while checking off an onerous list of expensive requirements
It is understood that the top tourism official, Ms Thapanee, may be referring to the news, in recent days from the United Kingdom and the United States where tourist visas are now being made available to potential travellers from what are still highly infected countries.
Notices on embassy websites suggest that the entry criteria, for those applying, are demanding including confirmation of a bank balance of at least ฿500,000 supported by copy bank statements for six months.
The most popular visa option is a 60-day visa which can be extended for up to 90 days when in Thailand. A 30 day visa option is reported as currently suspended.
Special Tourist Visa still reserved for safe countries updated regularly although this may also be relaxed
The Special Tourist Visa is still limited to visitors from safe listed countries that are published by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health every 15 days.
For some foreigners, such as those with a property who wish to stay in Thailand for a longer period using rented or self-owned accommodation, this visa may be a better approach.
It is thought that this option may also become more widely available with the current government’s push to attract more visitors in a controlled environment.
There are still very demanding requirements for any proposed visitor which include a positive coronavirus test result 72 hours before landing in Thailand, $100,000 in health insurance against the Covid-19 virus in addition to local health coverage with the appropriate cover for inpatient and outpatient liability.
Two separate insurance requirements
The insurance industry in Thailand has been quite innovative and has produced easy to use websites where these second local insurance health policies can be purchased depending on age or country of origin at a fee ranging from ฿5,000 to ฿60,000.
In addition to this, all visitors to Thailand are still required to book and pay for 14 days in the country’s Alternative State Quarantine Scheme in Bangkok or similar operations outside the capital. The cost is somewhere between ฿40,000 to ฿150,000.
Reduced quarantine period knocked on the head
An effort, this week, by the Ministry of Public Health with the support of the Centre for Covid 19 Situation Administration in Thailand to reduce the quarantine period to 10 days was rejected by Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha.
It appears that Thai authorities are anxious to reopen the kingdom to more tourist visitors but public opinion, which is strongly against such a move, and rising anti-government protests, as well as political tensions, may also derail efforts to achieve a reopening of the tourist industry to normal mass-market conditions.
Thailand’s tourism industry facing complete collapse
Thailand stands to lose up to ฿2 trillion by the end of March 2021 if it fails to fully reopen to mass tourism by then.
Based on initial government estimates for the Special Tourist Visa, the kingdom stands to lose well over 95% of both visitors and income for a full year based on the current situation.
The heaviest impact of the shutdown has fallen on smaller business concerns and casual workers who have retired or simply gone back home.
The scale of the problem can be seen from rising household debt levels which are targeted to reach 90% of GDP by the end of the year and tourism property owners, who have been forced to negotiate delayed repayment facilities on debt owed to banks.
Opportunities for investors with cash
There are also increased reports of business owners wishing to sell out to investors both within Thailand and externally who have access to funds.
Thailand’s banks recorded a surge in deposits at the start of the economic closure as wealthy individuals looked for a haven for their money.
Vaccine for Thailand may take time
The arrival of a potential vaccine may also seem alluring to Thai authorities, right now, but there may be significant logistical problems in the kingdom and throughout Asia with getting widespread access to a vaccine while there may also be a significant cost.
Thailand is reported to be proceeding with vaccine manufacturing facilities following a deal with Oxford University and AstraZeneca but it is being suggested that this may not yield results until the middle of 2021.
Economy running on one engine with a pickup in exports in the third quarter to the USA and China
In the meantime, with exports improving, the Thai government, supported by the public, appears for the moment, to be holding the line in its tough stance against the virus.
Thai exports picked up in the third quarter but could be impeded again by new lockdown in Europe which is where the kingdom’s exports have been hardest hit as countries on the continent have suffered massive GDP losses.
Exports to the European Union have fallen significantly in 2020 according to the Kasikorn Research Centre despite a rise of 7.4% in exports to the United States and a 3.7% rise achieved in the Chinese market.
Former regulars to Thailand are going elsewhere
For many regular tourists to Thailand, especially from western countries this year, the 2020/21 high season will either see them staying at home or visiting other hotspots in South America and in the Pacific which have reopened and are welcoming tourists without restriction.
The Maldives, with a population of 450,000, is currently experiencing a tourism industry boom after reopening on July 15th. The country is remarkable in that it has seen just over 12,000 Covid-19 cases but has recorded only 41 deaths.
Thailand, a country with nearly 70 million people, has only recorded 3,844 cases of the disease but has seen 60 deaths.