ANN/THE STRAITS TIMES – Tourist arrivals to Thailand have been promising – with 3.12 million international travelers in the first seven months of the year.
Authorities and industry players are optimistic but the nation, which before the Covid-19 pandemic relied heavily on tourism, is not yet out of the woods.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re halfway to rebuilding tourism in Southeast Asia. It’s gone down to such low levels that anything over last year is a big increase,” said Hannah Pearson, founding partner of travel consultancy Pear Anderson.
Several challenges threaten to dampen the “slow but steady” recovery, including high rates of inflation and operational and labor issues that will increase travel costs, industry operators said.
External factors, such as the Ukraine-Russia war which has driven up energy prices, the reimposition of travel rules in some countries seeing resurgences of Covid-19 and concerns about the global outbreak of monkeypox, will continue to affect clouding Thailand’s efforts to rebuild the crucial tourism sector.
“But at least it’s a steady progression, instead of the one step forward, two steps back situation last year,” added Pearson, whose company specializes in the South Asian market. South East.
Since the country dropped its latest set of border entry rules on July 1 – scrapping Thailand Pass registration and compulsory insurance – foreign arrivals have increased by 50%, crossing the 1 million mark per month for the first time since the pandemic.
Thailand was one of the first places in the region to ease border restrictions, beginning with the experiment closing the island of Phuket for tourists in July last year.
And, with each move to reduce entry rules, travel agencies like Contiki have begun to see the gradual return of tourists.
“Demand has steadily increased for our Thailand routes in line with restrictions that continue to be eased,” a spokesperson said, adding that these deals are its best sellers in Asia.
Currently, travelers only need to show their vaccination certificate or a negative PCR test to enter.
According to official figures, around 1.07 million tourists visited last month, with those from Malaysia, India and Singapore leading the pack.
This brought in THB 125 billion (SGD 4.83 billion) in travel revenue.
As Thailand heads into peak season for its long-haul travel market, that monthly figure will increase, said Pilomrat Isvarphornchai, public relations officer for the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta).
“For October to December, we are forecasting 1.5 million inbound travelers per month,” she added, noting that the numbers are “not unrealistic.”
This corresponds to the 2022 target of 10 million tourists set by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
Yet that pales in comparison to 2019 figures, with 40 million tourists contributing 1.91 trillion baht to Thailand’s economy.
Without Chinese visitors, it will be difficult to return to 2019 numbers, Pilomrat said.
Globally, the cost of airfare has also increased by at least 20%, said Bravo Asia Tour general manager Toni Tran, who caters to customers from the United States, Europe and from Australia.
This is due not only to higher fuel and operating costs, but also to limited international flights, as some airlines have not resumed pre-pandemic flight routes or frequency, he said. added.
There is also a labor shortage in the tourism and hospitality sector, Tran said.
His agency’s office in Chiang Mai has five employees, half the number before the pandemic.
“We don’t want to recruit more people at the moment, we are afraid that other problems will arise for the industry,” he said.
A July survey of young job seekers in Thailand found that work in tourism and hospitality was the least popular among 12 industries, underscoring uncertainty in the sector.
Pilomrat said about 50% of Atta members remain closed and those that have reopened may not be working full time.
Pearson said: “The changes have caused breaks in the travel chain – people have to find new contacts or operators to work with. Things are just more complicated.
Recent proposals have caused a stir in the struggling sector, including plans to impose a THB300 tax on all foreign arrivals and talks of a dual pricing system for hotels that would charge foreigners higher rates .
However, Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told the Straits Times that the THB 300 tax will only start in “one or two years when travelers are ready”.
He rejected the idea of double pricing for hotel rooms. “We can’t rush to raise money that will ruin tourists’ feeling of coming to Thailand,” he said.