The number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand may fall by 6 million this year to 33.8 million, the lowest in four years, due to growing fears over the coronavirus outbreak, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) said on Monday.
That was downgraded from last month's forecast for 35 million visitors this year, down 12% from 2019's 39.8 million, due largely to fewer tourists from China, Thailand's biggest source of visitors.
Visitor numbers in February likely slumped 40%, with a deeper contraction expected in March and April, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.
After a 2.5% rise in tourist arrivals in January, February's figures likely slumped 40%, and a deeper decline is expected in March and April, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told Reuters.
April should be the weakest month, with tourist numbers likely tumbling 50-60%, he said.
"Songkran this year is likely to be quiet," Mr Yuthasak said, referring to the water festival during April 13-15.
"People here are also talking about no water splashing because of the virus, which will also dampen overall sentiment".
On Sunday, Thailand recorded its first coronavirus death, with a total of 43 cases since Jan. 30.
The outbreak impact is expected to last for 5-6 months, and tourist numbers should turn positive from July, Mr Yuthasak said.
TAT has said Thailand could lose as much as 500 billion baht in tourist revenue if there were no measures to support the industry, a key growth driver.
The government is planning "substantial" measures, including soft loans, to help tourism, according to Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana. The cabinet is expected to vote on the measures on Tuesday.
Tourism is crucial to Thailand as spending from foreign visitors amounted to 1.93 trillion baht last year, or 11% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Nearly 11 million Chinese tourists spent about 544 billion baht last year.