Failure by Thailand to relaunch the entertainment and nightlife industry in December will temper the momentum of the November 1st reopening and will be particularly disastrous for Pattaya. The fallout from the annoying problems with the Thailand Pass system is also about to hamper enthusiasm.
There are indications the government is moving back towards an emphasis on public health safety as a decision looms on further liberalisation of the ongoing reopening of the country to foreign tourism. Reports this week suggest that the reopening of bars and the nightlife industry, indicated by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in mid-October to take place after December, may be delayed until the beginning of the new year or made more conditional. A crucial meeting on the issue will take place on Friday where the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) chaired by General Prayut, may make a decision. A postponement of the reopening of the entertainment industry may see bookings for December which have been reported, particularly in Pattaya, being cancelled, thus stalling the momentum of the reopening which has already been damaged by problems with the Thailand Pass system.
The Secretary-general of the National Security Council and the Director of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration, General Supot Malaniyom, has spoken of the government’s determination to move cautiously and gradually with the ongoing campaign to reopen the country under the new living with COVID-19 policy.
This has already seen the reopening of Thailand under more liberal terms and a strong pick up in international arrivals since November 1st.
The reopening has seen the country on track to receiving between 90,000 and 100,000 tourists in November with a larger number expected in December.
There are fears that a continued ban on bars and entertainment venues could impede the reopening process with many bookings having already been made in anticipation of Thailand’s nightlife springing back to life after December 1st.
Outcry over problems with the Thailand Pass system and continued prohibition on pubs, alcohol and entertainment may lead to a tapering of enthusiasm
Already, this week, there has been an outcry over problems with the Thailand Pass system which has left many thousands of potential passengers feeling overwhelmed and stressed when scrambling to obtain entry QR codes while in danger of losing non-refundable plane flight costs and hotel bookings.
The fear is that this sort of issue could see a tapering off of enthusiasm in the same mode as seen with the July 1st Phuket Sandbox scheme which, although a moderate success, ultimately did not live up to opening expectations.
Calls for tourism businesses to exercise more forbearance reported after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting
In mid-October, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, who had been in the vanguard of what is seen as a more liberal reopening, indicated that in December, the country may also reopen it’s famous nightlife and entertainment industry which is seen as synonymous with Thailand as a world tourism destination.
There were reports, however, this week that at last Tuesday’s cabinet meeting in Government House, the Prime Minister emphasised the need for operators in the hostelry and entertainment industry to exercise forbearance and ‘selflessness’ in the context of the need for the country to move cautiously in its steps towards a fuller reopening.
CCSA to consider postponing the reopening of the nightlife, entertainment industry and bars until 2022
The reports suggest that the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) will consider a proposal to postpone the reopening of nightlife venues and businesses related to the entertainment industry until the beginning of the new year in 2022.
Factors reportedly being considered by the governments are colder weather, the ongoing progress of the vaccination campaign and end of year holiday movements by the population.
On Wednesday, General Supot emphasised the importance of the country proceeding very gradually. There was a need to avoid chaos, he said.
National Security Council chief says securing borders is a key factor in maintaining the reopening process
He pointed to the need to secure Thailand’s borders with neighbouring countries and the need to make sure that incoming migrant workers were not infected by the COVID-19 virus.
Reports from industry across Thailand in the last month have led to estimates of a shortfall of approximately 420,000 workers, needed to continue to power Thailand’s export and manufacturing economy.
In this context, General Supot acknowledged the real threat from human traffickers engaged in the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the kingdom to be exploited with lower wages and poorer, more dangerous working conditions.
He pointed to the fact that the consumption of alcohol in restaurants had already been approved for 4 provinces and some areas of a further 13 provinces.
He said the various provincial communicable disease committees also had certain latitude in making decisions.
Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus system is not there to exclude business operators says chief
He also highlighted the government’s implementation of its Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus programmes under which foreign tourists from some countries operating under 17 Blue Zone sandbox programmes were required to use certified services including taxis and hotels, as a positive factor.
He said such initiatives should not be viewed as an effort by the government to restrict the business sector or exclude any particular business but to make sure the current reopening process is not reversed.
Hawkish doctor warns of rising COVID-19 levels in Europe due to rising interaction and socialising
The ongoing reopening to foreign tourism is facing scrutiny as the COVID-19 virus again surges in Europe with a warning, on Wednesday, from Dr Thira Woratanarat of the Faculty of Medicine Chulalongkorn University that the virus was on the march throughout the world.
Dr Thira is known for his hawkish but always scientific stance on prematurely exposing the country to foreign tourism, a view still supported by a majority of Thais despite the economic imperative.
He pointed out that 58.66% of new cases worldwide are currently in Europe where vaccination rates have been particularly high.
He, therefore, attributed the rise to the liberalisation of activities on the continent including more travel, socialising and entertainment.
Germany, where COVID-19 is rising, accounted for 12% of arrivals in the opening few days but detected virus levels among passengers are minuscule
Germany, which in the initial days of the current reopening accounted for nearly 12% of arrivals, is seeing a particularly virulent rise in infections while Europe accounts for 23% of all new arrivals with the United Kingdom making up a further 7%.
Despite this, the detected infection rate among passengers flying in is quite low at only 0.07%.
Currently, despite a higher level of local vaccination activity in key tourist hotspots, only 49% of the Thai population is fully vaccinated with 61.9% having received a first dose.
Reports of busy bars in Bangkok
In Bangkok, meanwhile, there have been reports of busy bars on the Sukhumvit and Khao San Road areas of the city since the reopening last week although the current regulations only stipulate a lifting of the alcohol ban for restaurants where food is being served.
A wider reopening of bars and the entertainment industry has been predicted for December but it is now understood that this will be addressed at the review by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) on Friday.
Pattaya sees no real benefit from the reopening at this point except for a promise with increased bookings for December, this may be now under threat or delayed
In the meantime, the reopening of Thailand has so far not seen a resumption of anything like normal activity in Pattaya, the former magnet for foreign tourists which is very much linked to the bar and entertainment industries.
Last week, one tourist business operator, Mr Sirichai Wongpattanakit confirmed that his trade was still very much limited to domestic tourists although he confirmed that foreign enquiries had risen.
He said, in particular, there had been bookings for December.
These bookings may have been predicated on the assumption, by many, that the nightlife industry would reopen in the month leading up to the end of the year.
Many venues in the resort city had been planning to reopen on December 1st with celebration parties
Social media and online networks have already identified key venues and nightlife spots in Pattaya which were scheduled to reopen on December 1st with many anticipated reopening parties.
An announcement by the CCSA that the sector will now not be reopening until 2022 may lead to a cancellation of bookings and a further blow to confidence in Thailand as a destination among these tourists.
UK travel boss says tourists are more concerned about safety and whether Thailand is a safe destination
On the other hand, the boss of a leading UK based travel firm EXO Travel, Hamish Keith, on Tuesday, speaking at a webinar event, highlighted security and health safety concerns among travellers as a key issue for them.
‘It is very important to be able to reassure European markets that we are safe in Thailand, that we meet international standards, and that Thailand is a safe destination,’ he explained.
He said since the reopening of Thailand was announced in mid-October, enquiries shot up to approximately 50% of 2019 levels.
This is confirmed by an ongoing Thai Examiner survey which shows a strong percentage, now 90%, of former visitors to Thailand, committed to returning in the next 12 months with 68% saying it would be in the next three to six months.
Pattaya tourism business operators on last legs
However, the situation is not as rosy in Pattaya for increasingly desperate business owners who have been devastated by the COVID-19 virus shutdown and are still desperately trying to hold on.
There are already reports in recent weeks of even more businesses selling out as the extended shutdown continues despite a more positive outcome in Phuket where the reopening has led to some return of normalcy to the Patong entertainment district on the island, famous to regular foreign visitors.
Tourism boss is critical of the public health controls and stringent policies being pursued in the once-thriving holiday city struggling to reopen
Boonanan Pattanasin is the President of the Pattaya Business and Tourism Association.
He has been particularly critical of the stringent disease control measures enforced in Pattaya, once a thriving holiday city but now a ghost town compared to its former self.
He highlights its disastrous effects on the foreign tourism business in the area.
He pointed to the disappointing outcome of recent music events in the city where he described both hotel bookings and business revenue as being below expectations.
However, this week, it was reported that ฿100 million had been generated by this sort of activity.
Mr Boonanan called for the prohibition of alcohol, still in effect in Pattaya, to be lifted and has already put this to the city’s mayor, Sontaya Kunplome.
Air Asia boss praises Thailand but says the recovery is only beginning and may take up to 9 months
On Thursday, the CEO of Air Asia, Mr Tony Fernandes, predicted that foreign tourism could begin to recover quickly within three months if all governments in Southeast Asia pursued a liberal reopening process similar to Thailand And Singapore with just a once-off PCR test requirement while doing away with quarantine and other restrictions.
However, he did suggest that this was only the prelude to a fuller recovery over a 6 to 9 month period.
He warned unless the progress and momentum of reopenings are maintained, then there was the very real threat of permanent damage to the industry as both facilities and workers in the wider industry will end up being deployed to other sectors of the economy while markets shift elsewhere.
‘Asia-Pacific is behind Europe and the US. But I am optimistic as Singapore, Thailand and more have started to reopen,’ he said. ‘There is a long way to go, but we are back.’
Prime Minister’s Office stresses that the government is committed to letting people live their lives but calls for mask-wearing as winter weather approaches
On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office again emphasised that General Prayut is determined to pursue his commitment, given to those working within and engaged with the foreign tourism industry, to let them recover their livelihoods and for the wider public, the freedom to travel and work as individuals see fit.
However, the statement also emphasised that the government must also take steps to protect public health given that the weather is now changing to winter in Thailand.
With this in mind, it spoke of the need for the public to continue to exercise caution and in particular, to continue to wear face masks.