Tour bus operators seek urgent financial aid

36,000 coaches sit dormant nationwide

Idle buses are awaiting the return of international tour groups, especially Chinese.  (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

Tour bus operators are in dire need of measures to cushion the impact of the coronavirus crisis, as an idle fleet of 36,000 buses countrywide has already missed out on 7 billion baht in income during the sluggish tourism period.

Wasuchet Sophonsathien, president of the Thai Transportation Operators Association, said that while tourism was at its peak, each bus could generate 50,000 baht a day from tour services.

The current lack of income has led operators to carry a cost burden of roughly 2 million baht from each bus leased, and they don't have enough cash for instalment payments.

Mr Wasuchet said many operators want to quit and sell their vehicles to operators in neighbouring countries like Laos, but one problem is the different steering-wheel position.

Just 10% of the 40,000 tour buses nationwide are still in use for industrial estates, which are also affected by the economic fallout as factories carry out cost-reduction strategies.

The transport segment includes 10,000 tour bus operators, of which 50% are small and medium-sized businesses, generating 100,000 jobs such as drivers, maintenance and other staff. There are 20,000-30,000 casual employees involved in the segment.

Mr Wasuchet said just 30,000 workers can access compensation from the Social Security Fund (SSF), which paid 62% of a 15,000-baht monthly salary until June.

The Tourism Council of Thailand has submitted a request to the Labour Ministry to extend SSF financial aid until the end of the year.

As the government will soon launch a tourism package for 1.2 million health workers requiring them to use tour operators and bus services, operators have to prepare a budget of 100,000 baht per bus to properly maintain the engines and adopt new hygiene practices.

Mr Wasuchet said tour bus operators expect to receive 30% from the 2.4-billion-baht budget for the Moral Support scheme or 8,000 baht per bus per day to get more cash when receiving payments by August.

State agency spending on meetings and seminars is one of the key drivers to help operators hit the road again.

"About 50% of tour buses serve the inbound market," Mr Wasuchet said. "But when international tourists come back this year, they may choose small vehicles instead. We might not be able to see big Chinese groups touring with plenty of buses anymore."

A 30% rebound in Chinese group tours in 2020 is the operators' best-case scenario.

Mr Wasuchet said the association submitted requests to the Land Transport Department and Transport Ministry asking for financial aid of 5,000 baht per bus per month for three months.

In addition they have sought support, either via loans or assistance, from the Vocational Education Commission to provide maintenance check-ups for safety, which they usually receive during Songkran.

Operators would also like the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration to let tour buses run at full capacity, instead of limited to 70% of available seats, which incurs higher costs.