Atta pins hopes on Q4 for rebound
The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) is banking on the country to reopen by the fourth quarter as the tourism industry faces another setback following a new wave of infections, which has dampened the outlook for Phuket's sandbox model due to start in July.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, newly-elected Atta president, said the reopening plan in July will be difficult to execute without effective vaccinations as Thailand is still recording over 1,000 infections every day.
Therefore, tour operators have pinned their hopes on the fourth quarter, during which there is more chance for tourists to return to pilot areas.
Mr Sisdivachr said it was important to reopen the country as soon as possible but that the plan cannot be accomplished without earning the confidence of tourists.
If the number of infections drops to double digits in the next two months, there might be a chance to continue with the Phuket sandbox as scheduled.
However, an effective vaccination plan, including procuring more doses, distribution, and communication is needed to boost confidence amongst locals. Moreover, this will also help ensure the industry does not stumble again in the future.
"A rapid vaccination programme is the only effective way to exit this crisis," said Mr Sisdivachr. "The government has to take decisive actions to allow the country to move forward."
In terms of a travel bubble arrangement, the government has to hold discussions with potential countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and other neighbouring countries. It should not wait until the number of domestic cases reaches zero.
According to the Tourism and Sports Ministry, the number of international arrivals in the first two months of this year dropped 99.77% year-on-year, from 5.9 million in 2020 to only 13,435.
Between Jan and Feb, tourists from mainland China -- a major market for the Thai tourism industry -- numbered only 931, a stark contrast to the 1.2 million visitors who entered during the same period last year.
Meanwhile, travellers from Germany were the most common with 1,432 visitors, followed by the US (1,425) and the UK (1,180).
Mr Sisdivachr said the number of inbound tourists this year is difficult to predict given current circumstances remain volatile. He said there would be a clearer picture by July.