International arrivals for Thailand are estimated to remain flat this year, assuming the country can reopen in October, while recovery to 2019 levels might not happen until 2023 under the best-case scenario, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata).
Liz Ortiguera, Pata's newly-appointed chief executive, said international arrivals are most likely expected to stay the same as last year at 6-7 million, taking into account factors such as the spike of new infections, deployment of vaccines, and reopening plan in October.
If the Phuket sandbox -- which is not only a good test for the country but also a case study for other destinations -- proves successful, an October opening could be possible.
As health and safety are the priority for travellers, the Phuket sandbox has to provide clear communication about protocols to reassure tourists.
"Destinations that are able to provide control measures including testing, tracing and isolating, combined with effective and broad-based vaccine deployment will be in the best position for sustained success," Ms Ortiguera said.
Pata recently released a mid-year revision of the Asia Pacific Visitor Forecasts 2021-2023 report.
Thailand is most likely to welcome between 9.9 million to 16.7 million travellers next year under medium and severe scenarios.
A full recovery should take place in 2023 with 41.7 million international arrivals expected or a 104% increase compared to almost 40 million in 2019 under the mild scenario.
Meanwhile, Pata also predicted that foreign tourism demand under the medium and severe scenarios will reach 30.6 million and 19.8 million, respectively, in the next two years.
Ms Ortiguera said the country should diversify source markets to create long-term recovery in the post-pandemic period. There are emerging regions like Central Asia and West Asia which are potential markets for the future.
The biggest threats for tourism recovery are mutated Covid-19 strains as well as existing strains that approved vaccines are not able to cope with.
If vaccine rollout can not happen quickly, the risk will escalate over time.
In addition, equal distribution of vaccines to neighbouring countries is also critical to ensure that the country and Asia-Pacific region are completely safe.
Ms Ortiguera said her mission as the new Pata chief executive is to support global membership with innovation and collaboration in order to support business growth, continue to be a source of tourism insights, and seek initiatives that will help the industry recover.