'Safe and Sealed' brings hope for tourism rally
Industry survivors hanging by a thread
Tourism operators are proposing a new inbound tourism plan, called Safe and Sealed, to replace travel bubbles and keep Thailand from realising the worst-case revenue scenario of 675 billion baht next year, down from 3.01 trillion baht in 2019.
At Wednesday's joint meeting of the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the private sector chaired by Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, tourism-related groups offered a proposal to let inbound tourists restart their trips to Thailand in the fourth quarter with safer screening and more flexibility for many countries than the bilateral travel bubble scheme would have afforded.
Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said that while Thailand has started to welcome certain groups of foreigners, the total will be fewer than 100,000 visitors and cannot prevent tourism-related businesses from falling into bankruptcy.
The new inbound plan is expected to draw at least 500,000 tourists to Thailand and generate 50 billion baht in revenue. The cost of the package would be 100,000 baht per person, higher than the average price of 50,000 baht before the pandemic.
Mr Phiphat said the scheme is the last bid to let the majority of tourism businesses survive and avoid layoffs in the fourth quarter if Thailand continues to close its borders to international tourists.
"Safe means we will select only guests from a city with a record of no infections for at least 30 days, and they can travel under the sealed conditions provided by tour operators in designated hotels and provinces that agree to welcome those tourists," he said.
Other necessary screening processes are also required, such as an infection-free certificate 72 hours before a flight, as well as insurance and swab tests.
Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn said Mr Phiphat will forward the proposal to related organisations, including the idea of setting up a tourism fund to provide soft loans to the industry, which has struggled to secure loans from commercial banks.
Tourism businesses want the government to help start the fund with a 100-billion-baht budget.
Mr Yuthasak said employment in the tourism sector totalled 4 million workers before the outbreak.
As most operators have had zero revenue in the past six months, unemployment in the sector could grow to 2.5 million as businesses cannot bear more losses, he said.
The agency also shared its 2021 tourism scenario with representatives from the private sector.
The worst case sees Thailand earning just 675 billion baht in revenue, down 9% from this year, which is likely to close at 742 billion baht, down 75% from the 3.01 trillion baht obtained in 2019.
If Thailand can gain momentum by receiving international tourists, the best case shows that tourism revenue can climb to 50% of 2019 levels, or 1.52 trillion baht.
The National Economic and Social Development Council previously set the tourism revenue goal at 3.9 trillion baht for 2021.
Mr Yuthasak said the goal has become a far-fetched ambition unless a vaccine is found.
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, the Thai Hotels Association president, said the Thai hotel industry saw 30-40% of 1.5 million jobs vanish during the past six months and just 50% of hotels have reopened.
She said the greatest burden for hotel operators is loan payments for investments made before the outbreak, an amount totalling roughly 700 billion baht.
Hotel operators are asking banks to extend the suspension period for principal and interest payment for an additional six months because tourism has yet to recover.