Tourism operators have thrashed the government announcement increasing the Covid-19 alert to Level 4, insisting state policy should enable people to live with the virus instead of limiting travel activities.
Most business operators are ready to comply with the new rules, but will not agree if the government imposes strict lockdown measures again.
Chamnan Srisawat, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said the new Covid-19 alert will increase anxiety among people and inconsistency in business operations as demand fluctuates.
This is the most worrisome situation for the tourism sector, he said.
The new alert encouraging people to avoid non-essential inter-provincial travel is no different from previous semi-lockdowns, which also impacted the industry, said Mr Chamnan.
"As tourism largely depends on confidence and the government's policies, any action from the authorities should be consistent and avoid frequent flip-flops to let the tourism industry recover in the long run," he said.
Decisive action that allows economic activities to run as usual is needed after the country dealt with the pandemic for two years, said Mr Chamnan.
He said Thailand can learn from other countries that allowed people to live normal lives and simultaneously rebound from the crisis.
For instance, the Maldives prioritised the economy by fully reopening and saw tourism arrivals surpass the 2019 level, said Mr Chamnan. The country has maintained its reopening policy despite new surges. Some countries in Europe, such as Sweden, recently removed Covid test requirements and most restrictions.
The government should focus on the number of fatalities and severe cases, while rolling out concrete public health plans to calm people's anxiety, said president of the Association of Domestic Travel Thanapol Cheewarattanaporn.
He said a proactive search for infectious people is vital to stop the highly transmissible virus and can help flatten the curve.
The government should adopt other preventive measures, such as distributing weekly free antigen test kits (ATK) to 50 million people for a month and setting up ATK test sites in communities, fresh markets or mass public transit points, said Mr Thanapol.
He said Tour Teaw Thai, a tour package subsidy programme, is expected to lose steam as families and the elderly -- the two key targets -- might delay their trips over the next two weeks.
Mr Thanapol said the programme, which is due to end on April 31, should be extended to July to leave more time for those who want to wait and see.
NO MORE LOCKDOWNS
The Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) is not worried about the Public Health Ministry's latest warning as it believes the government can cope with higher daily infections.
"The number of Omicron cases is increasing, but the fatality rate remains low compared with the Delta variant," said Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the FTI.
However, the federation said if the government resorts to lockdown measures to control the spread of the virus, it will have a negative impact on the economy.
"The FTI won't agree if the government uses lockdown measures again because the economy needs to recover," he said.
Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said the Level 4 alert will impact consumer confidence, particularly for shopping at department stores and restaurants.
He said the private sector viewed the higher level as a warning to all parties, both the government and the public, to be aware of outbreaks and strictly follow the Public Health Ministry's advice.
The chamber previously urged the government to improve the Test & Go scheme by waiving the RT-PCR test requirement on the fifth day to reduce unnecessary expenses.
The move will help the economy improve, not only the tourism sector but also trade, services and investments, said Mr Sanan.
Meanwhile, Wallaya Chirathivat, president and chief executive of SET-listed retail and property developer Central Pattana, said the company is accepting any measures and plans to adapt to the new alert.
"The current Covid-19 situation is different from the last two years. Omicron has spread rapidly, but we learned quickly that the variant caused mild symptoms among the vaccinated," she said.
Ms Wallaya said operators are more flexible in doing business because this is not the first time they have faced a soaring number of Covid-19 cases given previous waves the past two years.
"We urge the government to recognise retail complexes as hygienic venues as few cases have been detected in such places," she said.