NAKHON RATCHASIMA: Tour van operator Punnawit Jaenlue used to make about 20 hire-trips a month, earning about 50,000 baht. With Covid-19 and restrictions on interprovincial travel, he says he cannot even meet the monthly instalments on his vehicle loan.
Mr Punnwit, 41, told the Bangkok Post he is not alone in his struggle to make ends meet.
He and other tour van operators desperately need assistance. The first step should be the suspension of the monthly payments on their loans.
Mr Punnawit operates his van out of Phimai district, where the tourist attractions include the famous Phimai Khmer-era ruins.
He told the Bangkok Post that the government's tightened Covid-19 control measures, asking people to refrain from travelling across provinces and to work from home, have had a fatal impact on the tour van business.
Nobody hired vans to travel any more for fear of catching Covid-19 from other passengers.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) recently announced even tougher measures, including a night curfew in Bangkok and five adjacent provinces for at least 14 days from Monday to curb the rapid surge in Covid-19 transmissions.
Interprovincial travel was also discouraged from Greater Bangkok and the four southernmost border provinces.
Mr Punnawit said tour van operators have been left with a heavy financial burden, not the least being the monthly instalments on their vans.
Normally, he would be hired for about 20 trips a month, and he could earn about 50,000 baht a month. Now, he had neither a job nor the money to pay off the loan, about 14,000 baht a month, let alone meet the other costs of daily living.
He called on the government and agencies to ask financial institutions to suspend debt payments for 3-6 months for tour van operators.
Debt suspension would be the best way to help them survive the latest wave of the coronavirus, he said.
During the first round of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government had suspended debt repayments for van operators for three months, he added.
Tour vans parked idle in Nakhon Ratchasima. Nobody is hiring them for inter-provincial travel during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: Prasit Tangpraasert)