New curbs hobble return of Indians
Mice travellers dislike Covid test requirement for flight back
Tourism operators have started to feel the pinch from the slowing Indian market in the first quarter, particularly the Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) segment and independent travellers, as the Indian government requires Covid-19 RT-PCR tests for those returning from Thailand.
The Indian Mice segment from February to April is "on hold" because of the rising cost of Covid-19 tests and fear of getting Covid-19 abroad, said Rajesh Nair, chief executive of Enchantive Asia, an inbound tour company focusing on the subcontinent.
"The problem is travellers are discouraged because of the test requirement before boarding," said Mr Nair.
He said travellers are reluctant because of unclear measures if they test positive in Thailand before flying back.
Mice meetings this month might confirm their schedules because payments were already made, but some of them requested the group size be reduced.
For instance, one confirmed group decided to reduce the number of participants from 150 to 90.
Mr Nair said he estimated corporate meetings from India would be downsized by at least 40% or suspended in the first quarter. Many are waiting for updated regulations, or until the next quarter.
He said the first quarter is usually a busy period for corporate meetings as it is the last opportunity for companies to use budget for the fiscal year before reporting financial statements in March.
"Corporations are unhappy because they already allocated budgets for these trips, but have to increase them for RT-PCR tests," said Mr Nair.
Although some groups are prepared to postpone their trips to the second quarter -- another strong period for Indian Mice meetings -- the loss of income for Thai tourism in the first quarter should be substantial, he said.
Moreover, some companies are offering incentive money to employees to compensate for cancelled trips as they cannot transfer leftover budget to the new fiscal year, said Mr Nair.
Companies that confirmed their Mice trips are seeking extra insurance for Covid-19 medical expenses on top of regular travel insurance bought earlier, he said.
The Thai government on Thursday announced that visitors are required to have Covid-19 insurance before travelling, if their countries mandate an RT-PCR test before returning.
Some independent travellers are also hesitant, with more of their trips cancelled or rescheduled, said Mr Nair.
He said Indian families don't want to face the hassle of taking Covid-19 tests and paying extra.
In 2022, India ranked second in terms of arrivals with 965,994 visitors, following by Malaysians with 1.9 million arrivals, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.