International arrivals picked to nosedive in 2021
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International arrivals picked to nosedive in 2021

A near-empty street in Phuket Old Town in Phuket on Sunday. (Bloomberg photo)
A near-empty street in Phuket Old Town in Phuket on Sunday. (Bloomberg photo)

International arrivals may be as low as 500,000 this year as Thailand's third-quarter prospects remain gloomy, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

Despite the uncertain outlook, the creation of new "blue zones" has been devised to lure local and international travellers to safe tourism areas.

"If the ongoing outbreak continues past September, the total number of foreign tourists this year might be 500,000-700,000, which is similar to the forecast from the Bank of Thailand," said Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, the tourism and sports minister.

The number of international arrivals in the first half this year plunged to 40,447 tourists from 6.7 million in the same period of 2020.

Local tourists made 24.6 million trips from January to June, down 15.3%, and spent 128 billion baht, which was a 38.5% year-on-year decrease.

Mr Phiphat said the domestic market outlook is difficult to predict.

The Tourism and Sport along with the Interior ministries are working to introduce the blue zones, which are areas reporting low Covid-19 cases, as alternative destinations for tourists. These areas include districts in Nan, Phayao, Bueng Kan provinces, and Chiang Khan in Loei.

He said further details on the criteria will be decided by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration.

After meeting the governor of Phuket yesterday, Mr Phiphat said the island may introduce blue zones in the next two weeks.

A total of 14,055 foreigners arrived in Phuket during the first month of the sandbox scheme in July, but the tally may not exceed 15,000 in August due to the nationwide coronavirus surge.

"Bookings for Phuket slowed since daily infections soared over 10,000 for more than 10 days," he said.

Mr Phiphat said Phuket wants to wait until Aug 16 before introducing blue zones to ensure the province is clear of the outbreak, after it was downgraded to an orange zone following new local cases.

The 7+7 island extension plan from Phuket to other destinations like Koh Samui, Krabi and Phang Nga has been postponed until the virus in Phuket is under control. The ministry intends to relocate sporting events from Bangkok to the island during the fourth quarter.

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