Thailand's private pool villas fail to lure foreign arrivals, travel dips(Twitter/VickyProfitTC)
Thailand's private pool villas fail to lure foreign arrivals, travel dips(Twitter/VickyProfitTC)

Thailand's private pool villas fail to lure foreign arrivals, travel dips

More than three months after over a hundred resorts reopened to extended-stay travellers, in an attempt to revive Thailand’s battered economy, foreign arrivals have failed to meet even rock-bottom expectations with just 346 overseas visitors entering each month, on average, since October
Bloomberg
UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2021 07:38 AM IST

It’s hard to imagine a more luxurious place to spend two weeks of quarantine than the Anantara Phuket Suites & Villas in Thailand, where visitors are pampered in private residences that can have their own pool and courtyard.

Yet more than three months after the resort and more than a hundred like it reopened to extended-stay travellers in an attempt to revive Thailand’s battered economy, foreign arrivals have failed to meet even rock-bottom expectations. Just 346 overseas visitors have entered the country on average each month on special visas since October, according to the Thailand Longstay Company, which helps facilitate the program. That’s well below the government’s target of about 1,200 and a tiny fraction of the more than 3 million who came before the pandemic.

The tepid response to Thailand’s highly publicised reopening illustrates the difficulties facing tourist-dependent countries as they try to shore up economic growth while also protecting citizens from Covid-19 before vaccines become widely available.

Thailand had hoped to lure retirees escaping the European winter and others who could stay for an extended period. They would have to go through quarantine, but that could be done in the comfort of high-end resorts in a country that had been relatively unscathed by the pandemic. After two weeks, Thailand would be theirs to roam for as long as nine months.

The lack of interest is adding pressure on Thai policy makers, who have struggled to accommodate both industry players calling for relaxed quarantine rules and public-health experts warning against putting people in danger. All the while, as the beaches stay empty, many tourism-related companies are going out of business. To make matters worse, virus cases have jumped in the country.

“It’s really challenging to balance the demands of the tourism industry and locals,” said Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association. “I understand how hard it is to be stuck in a room for 14 days. I’ve done it. But the safety of the people gets priority because tourists come and go but locals live here.”

In 2019, Thailand received more than $60 billion in tourism revenue from about 40 million visitors. The industry contributed about a fifth of gross domestic product before the pandemic, compared to about 10% globally.

But six months without any foreign arrivals followed by months with just a trickle has battered the sector. At least 931 registered tourism-related companies closed last year, according to a Bloomberg News analysis of data from the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Business Development. The real number is probably much higher as many tourism businesses aren’t registered in any database.

On Thailand’s famed resort islands, the situation is particularly bad. Take Phuket, which got about 90% of its tourism income from foreign visitors before the pandemic. At Patong, its main tourist town, a once busy street of bars and nightclubs lies empty. Bangla Road is lined with shuttered businesses, with chairs stacked on tables and chains barring access. Dust gathers on the barstools and countertops. The few places that are open have barely any customers.

“When there are no foreigners, the area is just empty,” said Rungarun Loiluen, who works at The Kitchen, a restaurant and bar at the end of Bangla Road. She’s one of eight employees who kept their jobs from about 30 before the pandemic, albeit with fewer working hours. “There’s barely anyone walking down the road.”

On the next block over, Hotel Clover Patong Phuket has slashed its prices by as much as 75% to attract domestic travelers instead of its usual clientele of American, Russian and Chinese tourists. Still, it ran at about 10% occupancy in December, a period that used to be overbooked, according to Jessada Srivichian, the hotel’s country financial manager.

Go to Phuket for the Beaches, Stay for the Food and Adventure

Despite the government’s efforts to help tourism businesses, such as subsidizing the cost of hotel rooms, meals and airfares, domestic tourists who usually travel just on weekends can’t fill the gap left by foreign visitors. Even though only about half the country’s hotels have reopened, the average occupancy rate is only about 34%, Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said in an interview in December.

“I’ve been in Phuket for 20 years and have never seen it this quiet,” Hotel Clover’s Jessada said. “We need international visitors. We’re not thinking of making a profit but instead focusing on minimizing losses, because as long as there’s a quarantine requirement, people won’t come.”

The government should consider waiving the two-week isolation requirement for visitors from regions of countries with no local infections for more than 60 days, Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said in late September. He was hoping to have the rule relaxed for visitors from some parts of China, Thailand’s biggest source of tourism income. But no such deal was concluded.

“It seems impractical to double the duration of a trip to satisfy the local quarantine requirements,” said Ron Cooper, an American photographer and business consultant who traveled abroad for leisure several times a year before the pandemic. “Add to that the cost of staying in a hotel for two unproductive weeks -- not a very attractive proposition.”

Thailand’s approach contrasts with other tourism destinations that have been less cautious. The Maldives reopened to overseas tourists in July without requiring a quarantine, although a negative Covid-19 test is needed. The archipelago has seen more than 172,000 arrivals since then, according to Maldives Immigration data. While new infections increased in the aftermath, they’ve since declined.

“It was bold, daring to open up the Maldives with all the risks attached to it,” said Dirk De Cuyper, chief executive officer of S Hotels & Resorts Pcl, whose December occupancy rate at Maldives properties was 70%. And that might be bad news for Thailand, he said. “Many travelers won’t buy into quarantine, particularly when other countries are opening up and they have no quarantine rules.”

But most Thais opposed the reopening plan and are unlikely to want relaxed quarantine rules, partly because local residents live close to the resorts, unlike in the Maldives where properties are often isolated on their own islands.

“If I had to choose between health and income, I’d choose health,” said Wiparad Noiphao, a fruit and vegetable vendor at Banzaan fresh market in Patong. “We have to prioritize safety.”

Majority of Thais Oppose Lifting Tourist Ban on Virus Fears

As a compromise, the government’s Covid-19 task force discussed shortening the quarantine period to 10 days. But that has yet to be implemented because of concerns about new infections. The government has also approved six golf resorts as quarantine centers.

“Any modification to the original plan would mean higher risks,” said Thira Woratanarat, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine. “There are many examples of free international travel that led to a resurgence,” he said, giving the example of Europe. “We should wait until the global virus situation has improved.”

Cockfighting, Gambling Make Thailand’s Covid Fight Tougher

A resurgence of the virus has also weakened the case for easing quarantine rules. Thailand has seen Covid-19 infections more than double to more than 11,000 in less than a month. An outbreak that began in seafood markets and migrant communities has spread throughout the country. The government curbed travel in some high-risk regions but has so far refrained from imposing a broad lockdown. It has also extended its travel-subsidy program.

Ultimately, the country won’t fully reopen until vaccines are widely available, government officials have said. Thailand plans to offer the shot developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd. to frontline health workers and those with underlying conditions before the end of February. From May, it will give one by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, aiming to inoculate at least 33 million people, about half the nation’s population, by the end of 2021.

Questions remain about how international tourism will function as more people become vaccinated worldwide. Vaccine passports are seen as a way to get people traveling again, but whether and how they will be implemented is still unclear. It’s not even known whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus.

Thai Beaches Won’t Reopen Fully Until Vaccines Become Available

Taking all this into account, the Bank of Thailand estimates that even in 2022, overseas visitors will still fall well short of the 40 million in 2019. It projects that 5.5 million people will visit this year and 23 million in 2022.

The economy is estimated to have contracted 6% in 2020, the biggest decline since the Asian financial crisis. It’s projected to expand 3.5%-4.5% in 2021, according to the National Economic and Social Development Council.

Despite the hit to the economy, the Phuket Tourist Association’s Bhummikitti says Thailand’s cautious reopening plan was the correct option, and the embattled tourism industry has little choice but to wait for vaccines to take hold.

“We can’t close our borders forever, and we can’t let people in without strict measures in place,” he said. “So this controlled, gradual reopening is the best approach.”

Follow more stories on Facebook and Twitter

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Representational Image(Unsplash)
Representational Image(Unsplash)

Air travel quarantines are getting longer and lonelier

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 07:35 PM IST
Quarantines continue to frustrate travelers and strangle airlines a year into the pandemic, with the threat from highly infectious coronavirus variants meaning enforced isolations are mostly getting longer and stricter rather than easing up.
Close
Covid-19: Heathrow touts Britain to lead revival of mass international travel(Photo by Tomek Baginski on Unsplash)
Covid-19: Heathrow touts Britain to lead revival of mass international travel(Photo by Tomek Baginski on Unsplash)

Covid-19: Heathrow touts Britain to lead revival of mass international travel

Bloomberg
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 05:30 PM IST
'We will work with the global travel task-force so that Britain can become the first country in the world to safely restart international travel and trade at scale': London Heathrow airport's Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye
Close
Unilateral moves by EU member countries to combat the spread of new coronavirus variants has disrupted the flow of goods within the bloc's 27-nation single market and risks shutting parts of the Franco-German border.(Pixabay)
Unilateral moves by EU member countries to combat the spread of new coronavirus variants has disrupted the flow of goods within the bloc's 27-nation single market and risks shutting parts of the Franco-German border.(Pixabay)

EU to keep Covid-19 curbs on non-essential travel amid chaotic border measures

Reuters, Brussels/berlin
PUBLISHED ON FEB 24, 2021 12:34 PM IST
European Union government leaders will agree on Thursday to maintain curbs on non-essential travel within the EU despite the bloc's executive asking six countries to ease border restrictions on Tuesday.
Close
File photo of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. (Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint)
File photo of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. (Abhijit Bhatlekar/ Mint)

Covid-19 effect: Passenger traffic at Mumbai airport dipped by 73% last year

By Neha LM Tripathi
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 10:25 AM IST
In the pre-Covid days, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Iinternational Airport got an average of 42,000 international passengers per day but this number fell to 18,000 by mid-March last year. Domestic traffic too dropped by 15-20%.
Close
Covid-19 variants dampen hope of travel rebound, quarantines get longer-lonelier(Photo by Ellen Jenni on Unsplash)
Covid-19 variants dampen hope of travel rebound, quarantines get longer-lonelier(Photo by Ellen Jenni on Unsplash)

Covid-19 variants dampen hope of travel rebound, quarantines get longer-lonelier

Bloomberg
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 07:47 AM IST
While the efficacy of vaccines on mutated Covid-19 strains are under debate, the tightening of quarantine models to contain the threat from highly infectious coronavirus variants is damping hopes of a swift rebound in international air travel.
Close
Johnson told parliament that meant there was still time for Britons to plan summer holidays.(Pixabay)
Johnson told parliament that meant there was still time for Britons to plan summer holidays.(Pixabay)

UK PM says foreign travel curbs to stay until at least mid-May

Reuters, London
PUBLISHED ON FEB 23, 2021 09:36 AM IST
The ban on non-essential international travel to and from England will stay until at least May 17, prolonging the pain for airlines, airports and holiday companies hit by the pandemic travel slump.
Close
Italy extends non-essential travel ban till March 27 as Covid-19 variant spreads(Photo by Dan Novac on Unsplash)
Italy extends non-essential travel ban till March 27 as Covid-19 variant spreads(Photo by Dan Novac on Unsplash)

Italy extends non-essential travel ban till March 27 as Covid-19 variant spreads

ANI
UPDATED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:40 AM IST
Italy's regional travel ban does not apply to travel for work, health or emergency reasons or to anyone who needs to travel to return home. However, travel within Italy for tourism remains prohibited till March 27 due to the spread of the Covid-19 variant.
Close
Covid-19: Non-essential international travel banned to and from UK till May 17(Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash)
Covid-19: Non-essential international travel banned to and from UK till May 17(Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash)

Covid-19: Non-essential international travel banned to and from UK till May 17

ANI
UPDATED ON FEB 23, 2021 07:25 AM IST
As the new Covid-19 strain spreads in United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ban on non-essential international travel from and to the country till at least May 17, domestic overnight stays and self-contained accommodation will be allowed no earlier than 12 April
Close
 (Pics: Shutterstock)
(Pics: Shutterstock)

Committing to wellness

By Swati Chaturvedi
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 09:39 PM IST
In this new era of health consciousness, individuals are willing to spend on living a full life and are constantly looking for destinations to make memories for a lifetime. A yearning for cultural vibrancy and authentic experiences force these travellers to indulge  in holistic programs like spa getaways, detoxing cleansing with food, which in turn fosters an emotional and a life-changing wellness journey for eternity.
Close
Representational Image(Unsplash)
Representational Image(Unsplash)

Travel industry sees glimmers of recovery in Africa, Antarctica post Covid-19

Bloomberg
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 06:11 PM IST
After a year of pandemic, travelers are looking for open spaces, safety, and sunshine—and are ready to put down serious cash to get it.
Close
Vaccination passport: Air New Zealand to trial digital travel pass amid Covid-19(Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash)
Vaccination passport: Air New Zealand to trial digital travel pass amid Covid-19(Photo by Sébastien Goldberg on Unsplash)

Vaccination passport: Air New Zealand to trial digital travel pass amid Covid-19

AFP
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 05:16 PM IST
  • For restarting international travel as global vaccine rollouts get underway, Air New Zealand to trial digital Covid 'vaccination passport'
Close
Thailand extends emergency to contain Covid-19, bars and nightclubs to reopen(Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash)
Thailand extends emergency to contain Covid-19, bars and nightclubs to reopen(Photo by Florian Wehde on Unsplash)

Thailand extends emergency to contain Covid-19, bars and nightclubs to reopen

Bloomberg
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 04:40 PM IST
While Thailand approves a proposal for the 10th extension of the nationwide state of emergency to contain the Covid-19 outbreak ahead of coronavirus vaccination drive, bars and nightclubs can now reopen and serve liquor to patrons until 11 pm
Close
Osian, Jodhpur
Osian, Jodhpur

Dive in the dunes

By Prerna Gauba
PUBLISHED ON FEB 22, 2021 04:30 PM IST
From labyrinthine bazaars to royal forts and blue houses, Jodhpur will enamour you with its regal charm and historic tales.
Close
New Delhi, India - Nov. 10, 2020: A passenger arriving at Terminal 3 of IGI Airport amid heavy smog in the early morning hours, in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, November 10, 2020. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times) (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)
New Delhi, India - Nov. 10, 2020: A passenger arriving at Terminal 3 of IGI Airport amid heavy smog in the early morning hours, in New Delhi, India, on Tuesday, November 10, 2020. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times) (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Arriving passengers to be tested for Covid-19 via RT-PCR at Delhi airport

By Anvit Srivastava
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 03:47 PM IST
As per the SOP given by the ministry of health and family welfare dated February 17, passengers from these high-risk countries can get their tests done at the airport before proceeding for home quarantine
Close
Lt Governor Manoj Sinha assures tourists safe, pleasant, memorable visit to J&K(Photo by Arif Khan on Unsplash)
Lt Governor Manoj Sinha assures tourists safe, pleasant, memorable visit to J&K(Photo by Arif Khan on Unsplash)

Lt Governor Manoj Sinha assures tourists safe, pleasant, memorable visit to J&K

PTI
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2021 01:29 PM IST
'I assure the tourists across the globe a safe, pleasant and memorable visit to J&K, the paradise on earth. Come and witness the scenic beauty, rich culture and heritage of J&K': Lt Governor Manoj Sinha on the closing ceremony of Pahalgam winter carnival
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP