Thailand eyes wealthy visitors instead of mass tourism for revival

- A Monitor Desk Report 29 Jul, 2020 | 1007 Views|-+
Dhaka: To revive the tourism industry following the coronavirus pandemic, Thailand is to target big spenders seeking privacy and social distancing in the COVID-19 era, rather than try to attract a large number of visitors, said the country's Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, according to reports.

The pandemic has brought an opportunity to reboot the industry, which had become reliant on Chinese groups and backpackers.

Once the country’s borders are fully reopened and "so-called" travel bubbles are agreed upon, marketing efforts will be spearheaded towards wealthier individuals who want holidays with minimal risks, the minister added.

Thailand partially reopened its borders on July 1 for select foreign visitors such as business travellers, labors, those with Thai family and medical tourists.

It is also working with the travel industry to identify and invite individuals in target demographics, which will probably include previous visitors to luxury resorts in the islands of Phuket, Samui, Phangan and Phi Phi, the minister said, adding, Phuket is “a prototype” because it has all the needed facilities.

People may be required to pass COVID-19 screenings before travelling and upon arrival, choose a single resort island and remain for a minimum period of time.

The “high-end visitors” will be able to travel freely while they are on the island and be allowed to leave for home or other destinations in Thailand once the minimum 14 days have passed.

The country plans to court such visitors, possibly during the winter months of November-February when European and American travellers seek out warmer climates, Phiphat mentioned.

“One person can easily spend as much as five by staying at the finest hotels,” he said, adding that full and free travel should become a “thing of the past.”

Thailand is not the only country grappling with the question of how and when to reopen for visitors. Across Southeast Asia -- one of the most tourism-reliant regions in the world -- hotels and travel businesses are gradually kick starting their operations as countries that have succeeded in flattening their virus curves ease lockdown restrictions.

Thailand’s first few travel-bubble pacts, with nations such as Japan and Australia, probably will not be in effect until at least August, Phiphat noted. Thailand also is mulling a programme to allow visitors from specific Chinese cities and provinces, he claimed.

The goal is for Thailand to have 10 million foreign arrivals this year -- one-quarter of the 2019 tally -- Phiphat said.

Total tourism revenue is forecast at USD 39.6 billion this year, down 59 per cent from last year.

The tourism sector will account for about 6 per cent of gross domestic product in 2020, down from 18 per cent last year, Phiphat further mentioned.

The dearth of travellers is one reason Thailand’s economy is forecast to contract as much as 6 per cent this year. The government is rolling out stimulus worth 15 per cent of GDP, according to estimates of World Bank.

A lockdown, social distancing, tight control of borders and near-universal adoption of face masks enabled Thailand to restrict its official virus tally to just over 3,000, with 58 deaths.

Phiphat also noted that Thailand sees the crisis as an opportunity to address problems that existed before the pandemic, including over-crowding at some beaches and temples and environmental destruction.

“If we don’t use this chance to create the most benefit for the industry, Thailand will lose out,” Phiphat said, adding, “This is an opportunity to reset the entire tourism system.”

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