Less fear, more safety the key to tourism restart

Less fear, more safety the key to tourism restart

It's becoming apparent that if Thailand relies on fear to help us overcome Covid-19, it will ultimately be at the expense of our travel industry.

The country learned an expensive lesson when domestic tourism, the travel industry's last mainstay, can be wiped out in three major tourist destinations -- Rayong, Koh Samet and Pattaya -- following the infection debacle involving just one Egyptian airman.

Meanwhile, in response to the case of the Sudanese attache's nine-year-old daughter, whose family was living on Sukhumvit, and an Estonian diplomat who returned to her residence in the same area, hotels in that part of Bangkok also lost bookings.

Thailand's pandemic response has been exemplary and is now being upheld as a study of success on the international stage as evidenced by coverage in the National Geographic, New York Times and other prominent international media.

Yet it's time for Thais to think more pragmatically about the disease. Many may consider avoidance the key until a vaccine is found. The truth is that even if a cure is found, chances are slim that every single person will be willing to have it or that it will be 100% effective. After all, the vaccine for the seasonal flu, another strain of coronavirus, is not. It would also take time to vaccinate the entire population.

While the government's heavy restrictions on inbound travel have helped to protect us as a country, they have also hurt greatly because of Thailand's heavy reliance on tourism. Bloomberg reports Thailand's GDP is set to contract more than any other Asean country, largely due to Covid.

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports projects that approximately 60% of the hospitality industry will be wiped out if foreign tourists aren't let in by the peak summer season. Diethelm Travel Group CEO, Stephan Roemer, also said recently that if Thailand continued to keep international tourists out until October the losses incurred by tour operators and hotels would rise to 60%. These are heavy indeed. We can't let Thailand's tourism industry turn into an afterthought.

The truth is, if you ban travel to Rayong, Koh Samet or Pattaya because of a single Covid case, you're not thinking seriously enough about the livelihood of your fellow Thais.

What will keep us safe is not avoiding the province next to the province that had one Covid case, but wearing masks, sanitising and social distancing more in daily life.

Not everyone knows that, however, so education is also key. The only way the Thai travel industry can survive is if our citizens are taught how to safely live with Covid. Already, just weeks out of lockdown, I see people becoming more lax. We need more encouragement not to let up on mask-wearing, social distancing, sanitising and other key hygiene measures.

Society leaders and those in authority must make a big push to help educate the population about which measures help most to reduce Covid transmission, as well as push for wider adoption of contactless solutions to reduce the risk of transmission.

The recent blemishes involving incoming foreigners have been a disaster for many businesses hoping to make some income over the long weekend at the end of July. Some Rayong operators even fear that if another similar incident happens, their businesses are finished.

Everyone wants international tourism to resume but first, all "Covid-free" countries in Southeast Asia must educate their citizens about how to live safely with the virus. Otherwise, once tourism is back running at full steam, locals could be freaking out at every new Covid case,

In "Covid-free" countries, we also need to fight the tendency to be more lenient in our daily lives, but at the same time more paranoid about factors outside our control.

We must change our mentality to more pragmatism and less paranoia. That's the only way we can sustainably restart our economy.

Anne Somanas is the Thailand Correspondent for TTG Asia.

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