Airlines nervous over Songkran

Airlines nervous over Songkran

Carriers call for strict travel restrictions

Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation, the largest shareholder of Thai AirAsia (TAA).
Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation, the largest shareholder of Thai AirAsia (TAA).

Airlines are urging the government to shut down domestic travel during the Songkran holiday period to prevent a third wave of Covid-19, or else Thailand's tourism will risk losing more over the long run.

With the fresh outbreak starting to spread from entertainment hubs in Bangkok to 20 provinces, the contagion must be nipped in the bud as the long holiday next week will see a mass exodus, particularly of people returning to their hometowns and holidaymakers, said Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation, the largest shareholder of Thai AirAsia (TAA).

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration on Thursday announced that there will be no lockdown during the traditional New Year celebrations as millions of people have already planned their trips.

However, each province still has the authority to impose its own travel restrictions, such as mandatory quarantine for inter-provincial travellers, if there are risks of virus exposure.

Mr Tassapon said the spike of cases at this time is worrisome as it challenged the government on how to contain the virus when people still continued with their trips.

Most TAA passengers are sticking with their plans. The average load factor next week will hit 80-85%, while the airline recently called almost all furloughed staff back to their posts.

"There won't be a third wave if the government can stop it earlier. It should consider imposing strict travel restrictions. Even though the tourism industry may lose lucrative income, we have to accept it if that would be benefit the whole country," he said.

"That would be better than facing another nationwide lockdown afterwards," said Mr Tassapon.

Thailand has set the reopening date for inoculated tourists, starting in July with Phuket as the first destination to remove mandatory quarantine from entry requirements.

He added that travel restrictions are necessary for the country as long as the vaccination programme rollout remains slow.

For instance, employees in the aviation industry who have already been vaccinated are just those who work in high-risk areas or those residing in Phuket where 70% of TAA's staff have been vaccinated.

Nuntaporn Komonsittivate, head of commercial operations at Thai Lion Air (TLA), said travel restrictions are reasonable for the ongoing situation because the infection clusters are not easily controllable like the labour clusters in Samut Sakhon late last year.

From the latest outbreak, people that were infected tend to travel around which increased the risk of the virus spreading to wider areas.

"Travel restrictions won't be good for airlines, but in the meantime, we should prioritise long-term benefits instead of short-term revenue," she said.

TLA forecasts a load factor of over 70% next week, but it expects that some guests may cancel their trips if the number of new cases escalates in the next few days.

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