Thai AirAsia nudges authorities to open up

Thai AirAsia nudges authorities to open up

TAT pushes new stimulus measures

Visitors check out travel promotions at the 58th Thai Tiew Thai travel fair, which kicked off yesterday at Bitec Bangna. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)
Visitors check out travel promotions at the 58th Thai Tiew Thai travel fair, which kicked off yesterday at Bitec Bangna. (Photo by Somchai Poomlard)

Thailand may lose its reputation as a regional aviation hub if the government cannot speed up reopening the country to tourism and strengthen the competitiveness of airlines, according to Thai AirAsia (TAA).

"After facing the pandemic for a year, the key factors that can strengthen Thai tourism are reopening borders and financial aid such as soft loans to help airlines maintain their business and save jobs," said Santisuk Klongchaiya, chief executive of TAA.

Seven local airlines including TAA have requested a 14-billion-baht soft loan since March 2020.

"If the plan to welcome foreigners is not ready, Thailand may lose those potential tourists to other competitors that have prepared to attract them with a practical scheme," he said.

Mr Santisuk said international airlines may shift their direct flights to other countries such as Vietnam instead of Thailand.

TAA reported 16.2 billion baht in total revenue in 2020, down by 61% year-on-year, while the airline carried 9.49 million passengers last year, drop by 57%.

He said its passenger goal this year remains the same as last year -- 9.4 million.

Of that amount, 15% is the international market as the airline expects to resume international flights by the fourth quarter.

However, revenue should increase from last year because the airline aims to implement a cost-saving strategy that can help to lower operational costs by 18-20%, such as furloughing workforce based on active aircraft, said Mr Santisuk.

He said TAA already downsized its fleet to match tourism demand from 62 to 54 throughout this year.

Six aircraft reached the end of their lease terms, while the rest will be used for other hubs in Indonesia and Philippines, said Mr Santisuk.

In the pre-Covid era, 60% of revenue came from international market, but now the airline has to rely solely on the domestic market for two years.

During the fresh outbreak in January, the airline operated only 20 flights per day, down from 250 flights in October to November last year.

The airline plans to bump up frequencies, reaching 120 flights per day in March before fully resuming flights in April.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to add 2 million room nights to its ongoing tourism stimulus campaign called "We travel together", while implementing a new stimulus programme designed for tour operators from this month until July.

TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the authority is scheduled to meet the committee today in charge of Covid-19 relief loans at the National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) to discuss details of the plan. The loan scheme is expected to be submitted for cabinet approval next week.

While the hotel room night subsidy will not change, TAT will propose to the NESDC a buffet-style ticket scheme for airlines, he said. This option targets travellers with more frequent travel plans.

In principle, the purchase is subsidised once the user flies the first flight linked with a hotel booking at the same destination.

"These additional stimulus measures will boost travel sentiment for the upcoming regional holiday in the North on March 26, as well as the Songkran festival," said Mr Yuthasak.

The new stimulus programme called "Tour Teaw Thai" (Travel around Thailand) sees the TAT expand the target audience to all travellers, rather than only senior travellers aged 55-75 as planned earlier.

He said this tweak makes the programme more inclusive, aiming to attract 1 million travellers during its duration of three months.

Each participating tour operator is allowed to receive up to 3,000 tourists, said Mr Yuthasak.

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