AoT 'cautious' over tourism reopening

AoT 'cautious' over tourism reopening

Further setbacks possible, warns chief

A woman checks departure information on a display screen at Suvarnabhumi airport on May 26, 2021. (Bangkok photo)
A woman checks departure information on a display screen at Suvarnabhumi airport on May 26, 2021. (Bangkok photo)

Airports of Thailand (AoT) is welcoming the country's planned reopening to foreign visitors as airlines and other businesses have been struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic, though it said arrivals won't pick up until October.

AoT president, Nitinai Sirismatthakarn, said on Monday the launch of the tourism "Sandbox" programme in Phuket next month may not attract as many tourists as the government had expected, as the island is entering the "low season", which also coincides with rainy season.

International traffic is expected to pick up in October, which is considered as the start of the "high season" for tourism, he said.

When the programme -- under which tourists from countries with low and medium Covid-risk will be allowed to enter Phuket -- commences next month, there will be around 18 international flights serving Thailand per day on average, many of which are destined for Phuket.

Mr Nitinai said the number is equal to about 5% of pre-pandemic traffic, adding before most flights were grounded due to Covid-19, there were about 380 Thailand-bound international flights each day.

His remarks came on the back of a message from the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which warned restoring global connectivity will require far more than regional or individual state initiatives.

Connectivity needs countries at both ends of the journey to be open, said Willie Walsh, Iata's director-general.

He noted many of the world's largest air travel markets, such Australia, China, the UK, Japan, and Canada remain essentially closed with no clear plans towards a reopening.

"Data should help these and other countries to introduce targeted policies that keep their populations safe while moving towards normality in a world with Covid-19," Mr Walsh said.

While Mr Nitinai said the AoT has prepared its facilities and resources and is ready for the reopening, he admitted he was not certain if airlines and tourism businesses share his enthusiasm.

For example, Thai Airways International (THAI) is in the middle of a debt-restructuring process, while many shops and some tourist attractions remain closed after facing financial woes from the protracted pandemic.

While the AoT hasn't empirically analysed how successful the Phuket Sandbox will be, the agency is aware that a fresh outbreak after reopening could hurt prospects for the high season, which runs from October to January.

As Thailand's aviation industry might take between 1.5 to 2 years to fully recover, AoT remains under pressure and if tourism experiences further disruption in the first four months of the next fiscal year starting in October, risks running up further losses, after already taking out a 25-billion-baht loan, the first in its history, warned Mr Nitinai.

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