The government should aim high in the domestic tourism market by targeting at least 200 million trips next year if Thailand wants to extend a lifeline to the industry, says the Association of Domestic Travel (ADT).
"It's useless if the government doesn't set an ambitious goal, as we already witnessed soft domestic demand and insufficient stimulus this year could not save the vast majority of operators, nor those in the supply chain," said ADT president Thanapol Cheewarattanaporn.
Some 30% of tour operators nationwide have left the business, while 50% remain temporarily closed, he said.
Previously the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) predicted local tourists would make 100 million trips in 2021.
Mr Thanapol said while 200 million trips are far more than the 70 million trips estimated for this year, and the 167 million trips recorded in 2019, if Thailand maintains a conservative target the industry will continue to suffer.
"There's a greater risk those 50% of operators that are temporarily closed will permanently exit the industry," he said.
To aid the ailing industry, ADT urged the government to amend the domestic tourism stimulus by allowing users to buy tour programmes from agents and receive 40% discounts, capping the subsidy at 8,000 baht per head.
As the 22.1-billion-baht domestic campaign still has plenty of budget remaining after just 17% of 5.05 million registrants used benefits, this is a shortcut to help save the tourism industry.
Mr Thanapol said the ongoing scheme doesn't create inclusive benefits as the majority are left behind, such as local communities that don't have marketing tools or a budget to reach customers, as well as tour bus operators and local guides.
He said his organisation acknowledges that people prefer independent travel as only 10% of travellers use tour services, but if the government can subsidise the tour packages, ADT is confident it can create new products to meet the requirements of consumers, particularly health-oriented programmes and programmes tailored for the elderly.
"With a subsidy of up to 8,000 baht, consumers can get a premium package worth 10,000 to 20,000 baht with quality not that different from a luxury outbound trip," said Mr Thanapol.
This plan calls for the proportion of tour services to increase to 30% of the total next year, helping more of the industry, he said.
Mr Thanapol said such a scheme will lead half of the 11 million outbound tourists who spent 430 billion baht abroad last year to take domestic trips because they cannot leave the country.
The government can use this opportunity to distribute tourism revenue to various destinations by encouraging operators who wish to receive the subsidy to include local attractions in their programme, he said.
Mr Thanapol said national parks should waive the entrance fee for all visitors for a year.
The government can allocate a budget for park preservation as these sites already suffer from lower income without international tourists, he said.