The Tourism Ministry is poised to return 1.4 billion baht in deposits to tour companies that registered with the Tourism Department, while acknowledging that a year-long pandemic could slash the number of international visitors in 2020 to 10 million.
"If the pandemic is still uncontrollable on a global scale until the end of this year, even if Thailand can successfully restrict the contagion, it'll be useless because international tourists will not come anyway," said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn. "Based on that scenario, to achieve 10 million international visitors is already good enough."
If the global pandemic can be solved by September, Thai tourism will still have the fourth quarter to speed up and push the figure to 20 million.
If the virus is under control in every country by July, 27 million visitors is feasible, Mr Phiphat said.
Last year, Thailand recorded 39.79 million international arrivals, up 4.2%, while tourism receipts totalled 1.93 trillion baht, up 3.1%.
But this year, January was the peak time for travel. After more countries imposed lockdown policies in response to escalating coronavirus cases, the latest figures for March 1-16 showed a critical impact as international receipts plunged to 37 million baht from 730,000 visitors.
"I am totally in support of a lockdown policy, as now the safety of people is the priority," Mr Phiphat said. "This time we should follow the advice of medical experts and comply with that suggestion."
He said the ministry will focus on fixing and rebuilding instead of flashy new promotions.
In a meeting yesterday with the Finance Ministry, tourism agencies proposed returning the company registration deposit to local tour operators.
The Tourism Department, the responsible agency, has a 1.4-billion-baht budget collected from inbound, outbound and domestic tour companies paying 50,000-200,000 baht per licence.
To implement the policy, each company will receive 50-70% of the deposit back to help solve financial stagnation.
The ministry also asked for a 1-billion-baht budget for building and renovating attractions in local communities. Many places still lack proper facilities such as toilets.
This scheme will also create jobs for the industry, with the ministry estimating that 1.06 million employees in the tourism sector risk losing their jobs if the pandemic persists until July.
Mr Phiphat said the goal of 172 million domestic trips is now out of reach as strict measures are put in place to prohibit mass gatherings.
He voiced hope that if Thailand can contain the outbreak within April, at least the domestic market will be the first segment to spend on travel activities.
"In addition, further study and research on the establishment of a tourism fund and tourism bank have to be taken seriously," Mr Phiphat said.
Meanwhile, Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the meeting of 13 tourism associations reached a consensus that the sector is ready to comply with state policy regarding virus containment, including a lockdown of at least two weeks, to tackle the virus.
He said operators also called for more realistic access to financial aid, as many banks are still rejecting soft loans to tourism businesses despite cabinet approval.