The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry has caused it to shed no less than 3 million jobs or 71% of its workforce with the confidence index in the third quarter of 2021 hitting the floor. In the meantime, the boss of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and top officials have been focused on creating a new foreign tourism industry based on higher-quality standards and a new vision of wealthy global travellers using cryptocurrencies. Financial analysts and observers monitoring the decimation of the industry which before 2020, helped generate up to 20% of Thailand’s GDP, are pointing to the need to abolish the restrictive Certificate of Entry system as the key to the kingdom achieving a significant uptick in foreign visitors projected to only reach 280,000 travellers in 2021 according to the Tourism Council of Thailand.

A tourism industry survey revealed that its confidence index has plummeted to rock bottom with 7 points out of 200 and a statement from the Tourism Council of Thailand suggesting that the kingdom will only see 280,000 foreign visitors for 2021 or just 0.7% of the level seen in 2019. It comes as the boss of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Yuthasak Supasorn, is revisiting his long-held ambition to link tourism in Thailand to the use of cryptocurrencies by big spenders in partnership with the country’s leading platform Bitkub.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss Yuthasak Supasorn has resurrected his plans to attract cryptocurrency big spenders to Thailand. It emerged this week that he is in discussions with Thailand’s leading cryptocurrency exchange firm Bitkub to launch a new Thai tourism website where services and bookings can be made using cryptocurrencies and other digital payment devices.

The Tourism Council of Thailand latest projection for foreign tourists in 2021 is the lowest level Thailand has seen in modern history.

Mr Yuthasak has laid out plans for a new online platform which will link Thailand’s tourism industry to the world cryptocurrency boom as part of a new vision for the industry going forward.

This week, the tourism chief outlined a proposed partnership with Thailand’s up and coming bitcoin success story, Bitkub Capital Group Holdings, the country’s market leader in the sector and a company that could well emerge as Thailand’s first tech unicorn, given its rapid growth and profitability. 

Bitkub is one of Thailand’s tech success stories and the market leader in cryptocurrency exchange

It comes despite some problems earlier this year when the regulator for the financial services industry asked it to temporarily stop opening new accounts over system operating issues which have since been fully resolved.

Super startup Bitkub suffers another setback with SEC order barring it from opening new accounts

Bitkub has led the kingdom’s booming cryptocurrency exchange business which is strictly governed in Thailand by the Securities and Exchange Commission and licenced by the Bank of Thailand.

TAT Chief wants to create a Thai version of popular travel site Traveloka linked to cryptocurrencies

It is understood that Mr Yuthasak’s vision is a new travel and tourism platform, quite similar to the popular Traveloka website, where visitors to Thailand can avail of a complete range of tourism services and offerings and also pay for them using digital currencies.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is also responsible for the introduction of the Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus programme which has limited access to the foreign tourism market to tourist businesses who can conform to higher and strict safety standards as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, a controversial move which has drawn the ire of smaller business concerns already in both Bangkok and Phuket who have found themselves excluded from the scheme.

Disturbing story of Phuket guesthouse locked out overnight from its foreign tourism business, no notice

On the other side of the coin, senior executives with the Tourism Authority of Thailand have portrayed the initiative as a move by Thailand to upgrade its standards in respect of foreign tourism for the future in line with the kingdom’s stated policy to attract higher-spending tourists and move away from cheap mass-market tourism of the past based on low prices, sunny weather and a vibrant nightlife scene.

Long-held ambition to attract ‘big fish’ to holiday in Thailand with cryptocurrencies which have in the course of the last week been outlawed in China

This latest scheme from the TAT boss is seen to be a move along these lines. 

In February this year, the tourism boss talked about attracting ‘big fish in the market’ such as tech entrepreneur Elon Musk to visit Thailand.

Since then, Mr Musk’s pronouncements on cryptocurrencies have become more ambiguous while China, over the last week, has stunned the market by moving to outlaw all cryptocurrencies with the communist country’s central bank, last Friday, declaring all cryptocurrency transactions as illegal citing concern about money laundering, market volatility and the use of cryptocurrency to fuel online gambling activity. 

In the meantime, Mr Yuthasak is pressing ahead with his ambitious scheme and proposed partnership with Bitkub.

It is understood that the goal is to have a platform up and running in 2022 if it is approved by the government.

Discussion at a policy level and legal advice required for the new venture which will showcase Bangkok

However, he has conceded that the project will require discussions at a policy level and input from legal experts.

However, the tourism boss is convinced that Thailand must develop such digital currency infrastructure and also wants to see a platform emerge to drive Thailand’s tourism industry which is owned by the Thai people.

Commenting on the plan this week the pioneering founder of Bitkub and blockchain technology expert, Mr Jirayut Supsrisosopha, highlighted the significance of Bangkok as a world city and predicted that it could become a centre for seeking to work and relax as part of a global cryptocurrency market.

Bangkok, in 2019, before the pandemic, was voted the world’s most visited city in a MasterCard survey.

Bank of Thailand plans a digital currency in 2022 for the benefit of the less well off and small business

In recent weeks, the Governor of the Bank of Thailand, Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, while ruling out support for further expansion of cryptocurrencies, has indicated that the Thai central bank is preparing to launch its own digital currency next year which it hopes will benefit smaller business concerns and the less well off in the kingdom as a form of digital cash opening up an untapped market to digital services and support infrastructure.

Bank of Thailand boss hints at a digital baht which may help revive the virus ravaged cash economy

MasterCard itself is also pioneering efforts to make more convenient use of cryptocurrencies in partnership with a range of companies worldwide.

The plans were revealed last month by the Executive Vice President of the global credit card firm for the Asia Pacific region, Sandeep Malhotra.

Tech pioneer says Thailand’s tourism industry must adapt to change in order to survive going forward

Speaking about the plans set out by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr Jirayut, the Chief Executive Officer of Bitkub, said that Thailand’s foreign tourism industry must adapt and change if it is to survive.

The ambitious new plan comes as Ms Phakakrong Theparak, a lecturer at Rajamangala University of Technology, on Tuesday, revealed that the confidence index among Thailand’s tourism entrepreneurs, in the third quarter of 2021, had fallen to the lowest level ever seen.

Confidence within the industry in the third quarter hit rock bottom as 3 million jobs have been lost

The index, which is compiled in association with the Tourism Council of Thailand and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, fell to an abysmal 7 out of 200 points while anything below 50 is seen as indicative of an industry ‘in a coma’ according to one informed source on the inside.

‘In the third quarter of 2021, 51% of businesses in the tourism industry opened, while 84% of establishments had less than half of their employees. With 71% of workers out of the system, approximately 3.05 million people have been laid off and switched to other occupations. Originally, there were a total of 4.3 million workers in the system,’ disclosed Ms Phakakrong.

Tourism-related survey shows 70% of Thai people have lost over 40% of their income during the crisis

A survey released this week conducted across Thailand regarding prospects for domestic tourism showed that only 33% had plans to travel in the coming months with 44% resolved and quite certain that they would not.

The survey revealed that a massive 70% of the population had lost at least 40% of their income during the pandemic crisis.

In the last few days, in a short and terse statement, the Tourism Council of Thailand has reduced its estimate for foreign visitors entering the country this year from 500,000 to 280,000 due to the prolonged measures to combat COVID-19.

Most financial analysts however are predicting a figure of 150,000 visitors suggesting little prospect of a large uptick as long as the kingdom retains the burdensome Certificate of Entry system, an expensive PCR testing regimen and quarantine provisions despite relaxing the requirement from November 1st for vaccinated visitors.  

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Further reading:

Thailand to reopen to ‘big fish’ tourists as a cryptocurrency friendly haven says promotion agency boss

Bank of Thailand boss hints at a digital baht which may help revive the virus ravaged cash economy

Super startup Bitkub suffers another setback with SEC order barring it from opening new accounts

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