Thailand’s foreign tourism industry is not expected to make a full recovery until 2026 according to Bank of Thailand Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput as the Asia Pacific region lags behind the rest of the world in ramping up its travel industry from the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, 55% of air travellers in the region are from either North America or Europe with an even higher percentage of tourists.
The government may be on the verge of abolishing the Thailand Pass application as well as the ‘Test and Go’ scheme if a proposal by the minister finds favour at a meeting on April 22nd next of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA). This comes as data supplied by ForwardKeys, a travel industry intelligence firm, shows the kingdom’s lucrative foreign tourism industry is under threat from Southeast Asian rivals because of the government’s stringent controls in response to the pandemic.
The Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports said on Wednesday that his ministry, in association with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), would table a proposal with the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) at its next meeting on April 22nd to urgently scrap the country’s Test and Go regime for vaccinated travellers as well as the Thailand Pass scheme and replace it by allowing passengers to fly in directly to the kingdom while only showing their vaccine passports or proof of vaccination.
Mr Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn proposes that this could come into effect on May 1st at the same time as a proposal to scrap the current RT-PCR test requirement and replace it with a faster antigen test at the airport.
Travel industry intelligence shows Thailand well behind its regional peers in advance holiday bookings
The development comes as a travel intelligence firm based in Spain, FutureKeys in Valencia, has revealed that confidence in Thailand’s lucrative and valuable foreign tourism industry, the second largest in the world to Spain, has been severely damaged by the country’s prolonged restrictions and a delay in fully reopening to foreign visitors with figures showing both the Philippines and Singapore greatly surpassing Thailand in terms of advance bookings.
This week, Mr Phiphat’s counterpart in the Philippines, Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, explained the secret of her country’s success and surge in bookings.
‘We are the first to cut all the red tape,’ said the Philippines Tourism Minister. ‘Tourists are quite happy because upon arrival, they are free to go.’
This was taken up by the President of the Thai Hotels Association Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi who pointed this week to the prohibitive cost for incoming tourists to Thailand of tests, as a major turn off.
Thailand achieves only 24% of 2019 levels compared to 65% for the Philippines, industry calls for change
‘The on-arrivals PCR can cost ฿2,000-฿2,500 and can cost a lot more, especially for groups, people are hesitant to travel,’ explained Ms Marisa. ‘If another country does not have entry requirements, people would rather go there, less hassle.’
She is among a growing number of industry leaders who have been increasingly calling on the government to end the emergency provisions currently strangling the country’s most valuable economic sector.
The figures from the Spanish firm showed that bookings for Singapore and the Philippines were running at 72% and 65% respectively of 2019 levels while Thailand’s, which have also improved, are only at 24%.
Signs this week that the Prime Minister and his top officials are listening and understand the message
Over the last week, Thai officials have been emphasising the political will to take further steps towards dropping restrictions on tourists entering the kingdom explaining that the prime minister was proceeding cautiously because he fears a surge in infection and deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus after the Songkran holiday period.
The PM, General Prayut Chan ocha, in his Songkran New Year’s message on Tuesday explicitly mentioned the kingdom’s foreign tourism trade which not only accounts for up to 12% of the country’s net GDP but is also, through ancillary services and supports, linked with 25% of overall economic activity.
He held out hope that the industry will help the country turn around its economic position in 2022 despite fears of a slowdown in China, inflation and supply chain issues caused by the Ukraine war and capital flight from developing Asia Pacific economies driven by rising interest rates in the United States.
Thailand saw 196 film productions from over 33 countries this year highlighting the kingdom’s allure
General Prayut highlighted that no less than 196 film production teams have arrived in Thailand in the last year from 33 countries showing that the country retains its allure for foreigners.
He also pointed out that these activities alone had generated ฿4.2 billion for the economy.
In the meantime, the Tourism Minister, Mr Phiphat, said he was confident that with an improved entry regime, the country can achieve at least 10 million visitors this year or 25% of the number seen in 2019.
On the income generated, he was even more ambitious suggesting that between ฿1 trillion and ฿1.5 trillion could be generated which would be 50% to 75% of the 2019 figure.
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He stressed, however, that the success of his proposal would depend on the number of daily deaths seen from the virus in Thailand and caseloads over the Songkran period.
‘Thailand is ready to welcome back foreign visitors as our public health system is adequately equipped,’ he declared. ‘However, there has been concern about the number of domestic deaths caused by Covid-19, while daily caseloads of infections after Songkran will also be taken into account when the government considers further reopening the country to tourists.’
More Europeans and North Americans now travelling in Asia and Thailand according to Spanish data firm
The data from ForwardKeys also shows that the Asia Pacific region is lagging behind western countries and Europe in opening up to travel and flights with a projection that this year, the region will see only 68% of the activity seen in 2019.
It also suggests that visitors from North America have become more significant in the region, rising to 21% of travellers compared to just 9% in 2019. Similarly, European travellers made up 33% of the numbers, up from 22%.
In a corresponding decline, Asian nationals accounted for only 24% of flyers compared to 57% in 2019.
It suggests that it will be 2025 before the region returns to 2019 levels.
However, Thailand could lag even further behind this with Bank of Thailand, Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput, this week suggesting that it will be 2026 before the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry returns to its peak achieved just three years ago.