Operators pin hopes on low-risk Chinese areas
Tourism operators are urging the government to hasten bilateral agreements with 20 low-risk provinces in China for a possible reopening to foreign travellers in the second half of the year.
Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta), said a speedy decision on the matter could cushion the impact on the tourism business and provide income for the sector, which was sidelined for months.
He said more than 20 Chinese provinces have not reported new coronavirus cases for 30 days or more.
To allay the worries of local residents, operators can skip cities that have new cases, such as Beijing, and turn instead to Sanya, Kunming, Chengdu and Guangzhou, which represented 10% of the 11 million Chinese arrivals in Thailand last year.
Shanghai is another potential city that accounted for up to 10% of Chinese arrivals last year, and Thailand should consider it a priority, Mr Vichit said.
He suggested the country can start by setting a daily quota of 200-300 tourists from the mainland.
The quota should be managed by inbound operators, as group tours are more efficient in controlling routes and destinations in designated areas and can easily track the whereabouts of travellers.
"The tourism industry, especially inbound operators, has suffered from zero income from a lack of tourists for a quarter," Mr Vichit said. "Now we see more opportunities from potential countries that have effectively contained the virus, such as China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as neighbouring Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam."
The association plans to send a letter to the Labour Ministry today requesting an extension of the 62% cash aid from the Social Security Fund to the end of the year.
Atta also plans to ask the Finance Ministry for a relaxation on soft loans in the near future.
The Bank of Thailand recently cut its estimate for foreign arrivals this year from 15 million to 8 million because of uncertainties stemming from the outbreak.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said international arrivals this year will decline as foreigners are barred from visiting in the same numbers as during the pre-pandemic era.
Mr Yuthasak said Thailand hopes to convert last year's 300 billion baht in outbound spending into a domestic tourism boost.
A recent TAT survey of 3,000 outbound tourists found that 38% of participants normally took overseas trips to short-haul destinations once or twice a year with friends or family, with a length of stay of up to one week.
Almost 70% of respondents would choose to travel domestically if international travel were barred this year.
Mr Yuthasak said tour operators have to shift focus swiftly to local travellers who have purchasing power and are ready to travel under the new circumstances.