Tourism minister warns of domestic slowdown

Tourism minister warns of domestic slowdown

Thailand's tourism minister has warned that local demand is expected to drastically slow amid a slumping economy if there is no proper plan to reopen to tourists next year.

Local demand remains below 40% of last year's figure despite an uptick in activity since the outbreak of the pandemic, said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Tourism and Sports Minister.

However, that trend is likely to slow going into next year if there are no plans to revive the tourism industry after the government's tourism stimulus campaign ends in January.

"We have a precarious year for domestic tourism waiting for us in 2021, with the number of trips and receipts possibly going down to 15% of 2019," he said.

Recovering from the current crisis will be more difficult than it was to recover from the 1997 Asian financial crisis because of the pandemic's broad impact on the economy, he said.

While for any recovery to happen, winning back foreign tourists will be vital since domestic tourism is small by comparison.

Mr Phiphat said that the government's plan to lure overseas visitors with a special tourist visa (STV) will not be enough on its own to save the industry, but it's a start.

"We shouldn't expect big things from the STV, but it can prepare local communities for a return of international arrivals and pave the way for further relaxation of restrictions in the the next phase," said Mr Phiphat.

One measure the government is looking to relax is the quarantine period for foreign arrivals, from 14 days currently to 10 days.

The ministry is due to hold talks with the Chinese embassy this month to find a way of allowing Thai and Chinese tourists to freely visit each country.

Mr Phiphat is hopeful that Chinese tourists will be able to visit the country in February next year under a travel bubble scheme that will avoid the need for mandatory quarantine.

"Now, we need every segment of the tourism industry to help bring about a recovery. But this will depend on how each country lets their citizens easily fly back and forth," Mr Phiphat said.

Meanwhile the South Korean embassy has agreed to let golfers travel to Thailand this winter to train on the condition they undergo quarantine procedures.

The ministry also plans to hold talks with foreign embassies in Thailand, including the Japanese, Vietnamese, Australian and New Zealand, to find a way out of the tourism impasse.

Mr Phiphat said during his visits to 5-6 provinces, most tourism operators said they will struggle to survive beyond the end of the year unless business picks up or the government can help them.

The ministry has agreed to establish a Tourism Recovery Fund worth 50-100 billion baht to rebuild and develop the industry, but is awaiting approval from the Finance Ministry.

"At least 50% of tourism-related businesses will permanently close if they cannot receive any effective measures from the government until the middle of next year," Mr Phiphat said.

"But we cannot let them disappear because Thailand will be short on businesses that can accommodate tourists when things hopefully pick up."

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