When the entire world was affected by the pandemic and its ramifications, the pandemic caused a sudden halt in tourism and a major reduction in Thailand’s economic activities. Thailand’s economy shrank by 6.1 percent in 2020, the most since the Asian financial crisis. The tourism industry, which accounts for nearly a fifth of GDP and 20% of jobs, has been hit particularly hard by the tourist travel ban.
According to the Xinhua news agency, the country got almost 40 million international visitors in 2019, but just 6.7 million in 2020.
Thailand’s tourism business is fighting to survive more than a year and a half after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, and is attempting to move from mass tourism to luring higher-quality guests.
Even under the best-case scenario, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) predicts that just 1-2 million foreign tourists will visit Thailand in 2021.
Given the existing vaccination rate and rising number of daily cases in the country, some feel this statistic is still overly hopeful.
Thailand’s goal of focusing on high-end tourism has always been lofty. Thailand’s officials now believe that using the pandemic as a spur to restructure the industry is the only way for it to survive and navigate through the crisis.
“The government’s tourism-revival strategy is to target big spenders that are seeking for privacy and social distancing during their stays, especially during and post Covid-19 world,” Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said, adding that “the sector will try to attract high-end travelers, rather than a large number of visitors like what we have been relying on in the past”.
Phiphat said quality travel will also help address problems that already existed before the pandemic, such as overcrowding at beaches and temples and other environmental impacts.
It is vital that Thailand resets its entire tourism system, he said.
Several industry experts and operators have also attempted to promote more specific tourism segmentations such as medical and wellness, sports and food, or ultra-luxury travel.
On July 1, Thailand’s resort island of Phuket launched a “sandbox” scheme allowing vaccinated foreign tourists from low-and-medium-risk countries to visit the island without undergoing a two-week quarantine.
Earlier this month, the long-awaited Phuket sandbox “7+7” extension plan was approved by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
The program cuts the mandatory stay in Phuket from 14 days to seven days before the visitors are allowed to travel on to other designated destinations such as Koh Samui, Koh Phi Phi, and Krabi.
The Phuket sandbox and other pilot schemes are designed to be a long-term project, building up towards the peak season from December to March.
Many tourism-dependent localities elsewhere in the world stand to benefit from the achievement of Thailand’s reopening projects.
Yet two key important factors that will determine the pace of tourism recovery in Thailand are the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout in the country and the ability to control the spread of the virus, especially the more transmissible Delta variant, analysts said.
These major factors are crucial in Thailand’s plan to fully reopen for vaccinated tourists by mid-October, which very much will define the survival of its hospitality industry.