Re-telling 2020, with forecasts for Thailand's future

As the year we all want to end finally does, Life asks leading people from various professions to reflect how Covid-19 affected their industry and to look ahead for the year to come

Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn (Photo: Weerawong Wongpreedee)

Yuthasak Supasorn

Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor

We are closely monitoring the spread of the Covid-19 infections from the shrimp wholesale market in Samut Sakhon. We believe the situation is under control. For the New Year celebrations organised in several places (in Bangkok and big cities), we will continue supporting the events. We will also follow the policy of the provincial disease control committees of each province. If they want to cancel the event, then we will.

For the year-end holiday, we believe people will travel. Reasons vary from returning home to visiting relatives or paying respect to sacred sites for New Year's blessings. We forecast that about 3.4 million people will travel during the New Year holiday, generating up to 12 billion baht for the economy.

For the tourism situation in 2020, we are optimistic that we can achieve our target at 95 million domestic trips. Tourism statistics have increased during the past months. About 16 million trips were made in November, up 1 million from October. At the end of December, the number may rise to 100 million. And that will generate at least 500 billion baht for the economy.

For next year, we set our target at 120 million domestic trips. And the earning may reach 700 billion baht. When combined with the international market, we expect the tourism industry will contribute 1.2 trillion baht, of which 500 billion baht will come from international travellers, to the economy. We are optimistic that Thailand will be able to welcome 10 million international visitors in 2021.

To achieve the goal, tourism stimulus campaigns are still needed. We have worked hard not to make tourism demand fall sharply. Under the tourism recovery plan next year, we will focus on three issues. First is to continue tourism stimulus programmes for domestic travellers. We will evaluate the "We Travel Together" tourism programme that will end on April 30 before deciding whether or not we will continue the scheme.

Second, we will focus more on quality international visitors when we open the country, which may happen around the third or fourth quarter of next year. The third issue is to focus on responsible tourism. We will have a platform for this purpose as we will gear towards a more sustainable future for the country.

From now until perhaps the next two years, our tourism will not be the same. In the wake of the two recent incidents in Chiang Rai and the Covid-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon, it made us realise that we have to live in a pandemic-stricken world for a while. It is necessary that we realise this and not panic because it will ruin the tourism sentiment. The most important thing that the government is doing is to ensure public safety and to prevent the spread of Covid-19. I am personally confident that we will not return to the time when we have to lock down our whole country again.

In my opinion, we can still travel safely in our country. Simple things that we all need to do is to wear masks, do not lower down our guards, use hand sanitiser and keep on with the social distancing.

-- Karnjana Karnjanatawe

Prof Apinan Poshyananda. (Photo © Bangkok Art Biennale 2020)

Prof Apinan Poshyananda

CEO & Artistic Director of Bangkok Art Biennale 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is like a World War III germ warfare. In this kind of situation, art and sports do not receive priority attention because survival is more important. When talking about the art industry, we must mention museums, art fairs, galleries and selling artwork. Since the global economy is in recession, there is a high competition between museums, which have to request financial support from state organisations. There are necessary expenses in museums such as maintaining the correct level of temperature and humidity, preserving ancient art and hiring staff. Some museums have to open less than usual and some have to lay off their employees because of financial difficulties. In 2020, many art biennales and art fairs were either postponed or cancelled. There are virtual exhibitions that can be used as makeshifts, but art collectors still need to see the real objects and discuss with artists in person.

In Thailand, we are fortunate that the pandemic is not severe like in many countries, so there were still many art-related activities. However, to arrange the Bangkok Art Biennale 2020 was not easy. There was trouble every day contacting artists, creating artworks, and organising logistics and quarantine for artists from overseas. Even though there was trouble, many artists found a positive side to the pandemic. They said the situation made them focus on their artwork more since they had to stay at home or continually work in their studios.

The effect of the pandemic will make people change their perspectives. Next year, artwork will portray issues related to climate change, human rights, animal rights and pollution. People will be concerned more about sustainable development goals. I believe that artists in Thailand will hold on to peace, concentration and solving problems with consciousness. They won't create "art for art's sake", but they will create art more mindfully to serve people and the community.

-- Suwitcha Chaiyong

Assoc Prof Jessada Denduangporipant.

Assoc Prof Jessada Denduangporipant

Department of Biological Science, Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Science

When the novel coronavirus started to hit hard in Thailand in March and April, university classes were moved online. Chulalongkorn University announced it was closed and suddenly everything had to be conducted digitally. Although the situation got better in August, the university still placed priority on online classes.

Such a change in teaching/learning platforms has been a great challenge among lecturers given the fact that the university did not have specific strategies or mechanisms to accommodate the change. Personally I do believe that when the situation got better earlier, on-site lectures should have been allowed because the disease would return probably during the year end.

Now that the Covid-19 situation has worsened, coupled with the fact that we might open the door to more tourists, this online learning/teaching will continue to be an issue because admittedly online classes do not seem to be successful in terms of knowledge giving and sharing.

Looking ahead to 2021, I strongly think that it will still be a tough year. The overall situation will hardly be predictable. Despite the availability of vaccines against Covid-19, they are expected to be administered in Thailand in the middle of next year and only among healthcare personnel and vulnerable groups first.

While people still need to adjust themselves to the new normal, with the work-from-home model likely to return and more online classes implemented, the concerns are with the tourism industry. It was about to pick up while expecting more international tourists next year. Now with the rise of infection cases, travellers will no longer think of Thailand as a safe sanctuary. So next year it will be a matter of whether businesses can adjust themselves to survive the ever greater challenge of this new round of Covid-19 infections and how well the government can handle the situation.

-- Arusa Pisuthipan

Litti Kewkacha. (Photo: Kacha Brothers)

Litti Kewkacha

Academy Chair for South-East Asia (North), The World's 50 Best Restaurants

The impact of coronavirus pandemic is definitely a good lesson for everyone in the food industry, that is especially regarding the importance of sustainability and clientele balance.

As Thailand is one of the world's leading travel destinations, the proprietors had for so long been focusing on -- or perhaps spoiled by -- the tourist market. Apparently the more we rely on tourists, the worse we tumble.

At the initial phase of the crisis, with the travel restrictions and mandated dining shutdown, it was a stage of shock for all in the restaurant businesses. But we needed to adjust quickly in order to survive. Anything once deemed non-essential has become crucially indispensable, including delivery services and online marketing platforms.

The global crisis also opened our eyes that at the end of the day local customers are always there for you. Online food delivery and local clientele are now the main mechanisms that keep businesses going.

Necessity also forced restaurateurs to rethink and be open-minded. In many cases, that's led to happy new discoveries. For examples, because of the logistic difficulties and importing deadlock, we found many great local produce that we never knew existed.

Operators of fine dining restaurants also observe new client sectors: the neighbourhood residents who once were prevented from entering because of long waiting lists mainly built up by tourists.

Chefs too, rather than travelling, are back in the kitchen to create new dishes to attract repeat customers. While the quality remains high, prices are recalculated to be more attractive for locals. It's a win-win for consumers.

With the availability of the vaccine in 2021, most of us, especially the fine dining industry, are undeniably expecting a resumption of travelling and revenge spending by tourists. However, with such lessons learnt over pandemic, a good balance of local clientele and tourists must be achieved.

-- Vanniya Sriangura

Kiratra Promsaka Na Sakolnakorn (Photo © Have You Heard?)

Kiratra 'Ki' Promsaka Na Sakolnakorn

Concert promoter and co-founder of Mahorasop Music Festival

The pandemic has been disastrous to the music industry as well as the live music scene worldwide. We are among the hardest hit as we're one of the first to be affected and will likely be one of the last to fully recover. For us in particular, our focus is on international acts, and with the restrictions on international travel, our jobs have come to a standstill.

Working in the music industry has always had its ups and downs but the infinite uncertainty that we're forced to face due to the pandemic is definitely one of the most stressful things I've ever dealt with in my career as a concert promoter.

Looking forward, we have to be prepared to face new challenges at every turn. Our best bet would be to always be ready to adapt, remain creative, and of course, be as supportive of one another as much as we can.

One positive spin that we could take from this whole situation is to use this time to work together on creating a more sustainable future for the industry. How can we create a community around the love people have for music so that ultimately, they get to share a sense of belonging and of coming together? And at the same time, make it fairer and more beneficial for everyone.

For 2021, we will launch a new project which hopefully could contribute to creating such a community in the local music industry.

-- Tatat Bunnag

Frouke Gerbens. (Photo: Dusit Thani College)

Frouke Gerbens

Rector, Dusit Thani College

The pandemic forced higher education institutions across the globe to switch from onsite to online instruction, challenging educators, and students alike. While administrators were forced to upend processes and systems to enable remote teaching and learning, instructors had to adjust steadfast habits of teaching and training. For many students across the world, as exchange programmes and internships abroad were abandoned and social gatherings and celebrations were annulled, the pandemic deprived them of the co-curricular and informal activities that normally shape a student's learning experience. Countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world are currently battling second waves of the pandemic and online instruction is still the norm at many colleges and universities across the globe. In these countries, most educators and students yearn to return to their campuses, craving face-to-face exchanges and informal offline discussions that can be pivotal in teaching and learning.

As Thailand managed to keep Covid-19 at bay, the closure of our country's education institutions from mid-March through June was relatively brief. Albeit temporary, the forced shift from onsite to online teaching has propelled many education institutions towards innovation, recognising the opportunities that technology-mediated instruction can bring. My hope for 2021 is that education institutions in Thailand will embrace technology to experiment and discover new ways of how technology can enhance the learning experience, widen access to learning for people young and old and encourage continuous personal and professional development or lifelong learning.

Embracing technology can also enable education institutions to find new ways to collaborate to tackle long-term yet pressing challenges facing one of Thailand's key economic sectors -- the tourism and hospitality industry, which pre-Covid comprised 18% of the nation's GDP. Complex threats to tourism such as climate change can only be addressed collectively and collaboratively. Joint solutions to promote sustainable agriculture and to safeguard the region's natural resources are critical for the future of tourism in Thailand. Through new collaborations across fields and disciplines, Thai education institutions can help the Thai tourism industry to progress in a post-Covid world into a viable and sustainable economic sector for generations to come.

-- Yvonne Bohwongprasert

Intira Narksakul. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Intira Narksakul

Marketing director of Thai Wacoal

During lockdown, the government ordered the temporary closure of department stores and other high risk areas, resulting in retail business shifting to the online platform. Thai Wacoal has had around 300 branches in shopping malls and our retail channels decreased. At that time, we learned to create more choices of retail channels to increase customer engagement and develop content to expand our reach to target customers. We have used Facebook, Instagram and call centres to provide customers with new convenient shopping experiences and quick delivery services.

With the sales dropping and the country facing a surgical mask shortage, our team research developed a collection of comfortable 3D fabric masks made with 200,000 eco-friendly lingerie materials for distribution to the public and communities in both Bangkok and remote areas. We also joined hands with Banpu to manufacture 400,000 pieces of the Mask for Blood Heroes to raise awareness of the low blood supply at the National Blood Center of the Thailand Red Cross Society.

"We noticed that the Covid-19 crisis made sustainability in the spotlight. Customers pay more attention to business ethics and social responsibility, especially millennial and generation Z. During lockdown, consumers are concerned about sustainable living and health. Quality becomes a significant thing because customers want something really useful for themselves."

There's a survey that indicates customers prefer to support the brands or companies that continue to pay employees full or don't lay off employees or produce a collection of fabric masks and PPE suits to help society and medical personnel.

In the future, I think that our lives will get back to normal, but not 100%. When people get used to online shopping, they may come to a shop to experience special environments and services. This is our opportunity to enhance our display and planogram to avoid touching. We have collected data and used it to develop our products to fit all lifestyles. Vaccines will make people feel secure and brave to spend more as the government's projects to stimulate the economy will help business go on.

-- Pattarawadee Saengmanee

Netdaw Vattanasimakon.

Netdaw Vattanasimakon

Founder and creative director of Landmee

Travelling overseas allows us to experience places, people, art and culture and many other things that often become sources of inspirations for my collections.

The spring-summer 2020 collection, "My Pleasure Is My Business'', for instance, is inspired by The Swing, an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard, exhibited at The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, London.

Likewise, travelling is both for personal pleasure and for obtaining inspiration and ideas for my designs. The pandemic, however, has led to travelling restrictions and, in a way, hindered this creative process.

This year, fashion brands had to really rethink its retailing strategies, when stores were closed during the lockdown. As people turned to online shopping, we had to be more active in e-commerce, in order to response to consumer behaviour.

I had to become more tech-savvy and the Landmee brand had to digitally reinvent itself and strengthen our presence on social media, such as Instagram, which is a channel to creatively present pieces from the winter 2020 collection, "Dear Landmee", as well as brand activities.

The digital platform will complement traditional retailing though, and next year, we will open a Landmee flagship store at Central Embassy.

It has been a tough year for all, but we can see the ongoing pandemic as another obstacle to overcome and adapt ourselves to the changing circumstances.

We would rather look ahead to the opening of the store, the spring-summer 2021 collection, "Love, Letters, Rose", and Landmee's 20th anniversary.

-- Kanokporn Chanasongkram

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