International tourism is possible with proper management system while travel bubbles for foreign tourists is a must, experts from the medical and tourism sector said at CARE Group’s tourism forum on Saturday.
The Thai government is currently in business bubble negotiations with five countries but travel bubbles for tourists is unlikely to happen until at least mid-August, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) said last week.
“With a well-designed prevention system, which can be done before they come in, during their stay in the country, and before they leave the country, the risk level will be low,” said Dr Thanarak Phaliphat, deputy director of the Disease Control Department.
Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation, a holding company that is the largest shareholder of Thai AirAsia (TAA), said since 70 per cent of TAA’s passengers before the outbreak were foreigners, the low-cost airline heavily suffering from loss of income.
TAA has a fleet of 60 planes. However, only 25 are being used for domestic operations.
Before the outbreak, Tassapon said about half of TAA planes were flying domestically and the other half were flying internationally while about two-third of their passengers were foreign tourists.
The Bank of Thailand now expects only 8 million foreign visitors for 2020 in comparison to 39.8 million visitors in 2019.
Tassapon said that the aviation and tourism industry was unlikely to recover to previous levels for at least two years or until a vaccine is found.
“Do not forget that foreign tourists also fly within the country once they get here and if we cut that part out, [the number of passengers] will be down to only 30 per cent,” he said.
He urged the government to come up with measures such as travel bubble for tourists to help stimulate the tourism sector.
“If there is no travel bubble, we must do anything that we possibly can to make domestic travel happen.”
Tassapon said if the government and banks are still saying that they cannot provide loans or even loan guarantees for some businesses within sectors badly affected by the outbreak then the situation will remain grim.
He said Asia Aviation’s TAA will be able to continue to operate under the current conditions but that is unlikely to be the case for the company’s long haul arm which has yet to secure a bank loan.
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotels Association said hotels are still suffering, even with the ongoing measures to stimulate domestic tourism.
She said there are about 16,200 licensed hotels with more than 783,000 rooms in Thailand. There are also about 50,000 hotels with about 1 million rooms that are still unlicensed.
Together, the hotel sector hires about 1.6-1.8 million workers
In the past three months, about 90 per cent have decided to temporarily shutdown but according to the law, they still have to pay employees’ wages or around 25 per cent of their expenditures.
Supawan said the government’s latest measures to stimulate domestic tourism has increased the occupancy rate but this is only temporary because it is not real organic demand.
In addition, only hotels that are near the beaches and the capital such as the ones in Hua Hin and Pattaya are benefitting.
“There are about 900 licensed hotels with about 150,000 rooms in Bangkok, which is the largest when compared to other provinces, but their occupancy rate does not even reach 10 per cent at the moment,” she said.
She said the reason why hotels in Bangkok are not benefitting is because most of their customers are foreigners.
The reopening of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) has provided some revenue but with social distancing, the level of income from such events is much lower than before.
“We cannot live with the current loss right now so how are we going to cope with the remaining eight months? It will definitely be in a very difficult position,” she said. “If the government still do not provide more support for the sector, tourism might no longer be one of the main revenue earners for this country anymore.”