Operators urge 'decisive' measures
Priority for tourism industry is to control outbreak to build up visitor confidence
Decisive and immediate action to control the recent virus surge is necessary to protect the tourism industry from collapse, while operators have doubts about a plan to offer a quarantine area for foreigners.
"The first priority is to handle the outbreak effectively. If the government cannot curb the ongoing outbreak, we will likely face further troubles," said Thanes Supornsahasrungsri, president of the Tourism Council of Chon Buri.
He said hoteliers in Pattaya expected room bookings to reach 30-40% in December, but this goal was abandoned.
The occupancy rate during weekends for beach hotels dropped to 40-50% from 80-90% normally, with some remote hotels seeing single-digit occupancy.
The 13 hotels in Chon Buri serving as alternative local quarantine (ALQ) sites had 70-80% occupancy rates, before facing a slower pace during Christmas.
Mr Thanes said forward bookings for ALQs were stagnant after the country reported a spike in local infections, ruining the country's image as a safe place to visit. A massive run of global flight cancellations was another negative factor for inbound markets.
Mr Thanes, who is also an adviser to the Thai Hotels Association's (THA) eastern chapter, said allowing more relaxed quarantines by introducing quarantine areas still requires clear preventive measures.
A reliable plan will help in gaining confidence and approval from locals, assuring them that tourists are not the cause of new infections, he said. Tourism operators discussed the idea of an area quarantine with state agencies a few times, but there are no concrete plans.
Mr Thanes said tourists from Russia expressed intent to visit Thailand under quarantine, under the condition that they could leave their rooms and use hotel facilities, but have since decided to visit Turkey, which requires no quarantine.
As other countries begin to reopen, the government has to speed up the outbreak control process to win back tourists and move forward, while finding balance between health and economic risks, he said.
Phisut Sae-Khu, president of THA's eastern chapter, said the country cannot go back to a nationwide lockdown as it would devastate tourism operators. He said the government must quickly contain the outbreak and drum up travel sentiment among people likely to travel again during Chinese New Year in February. An extension of financial measures, including deferring principal and interest payments for up to six months, is necessary to help operators, along with support for 50% of tourism workers' salaries, said Mr Phisut.