Thailand’s Tourism Challenges Even With Covid Restrictions Lifted

The Thai tourism industry’s recovery still faces many challenges, including the absence of large number of Chinese tourists arrivals, even though the government has officially lifted the most stringent pandemic-related travel restrictions.

The Kingdom has opened its borders to travelers from anywhere without requiring the Thailand Pass check-in before arrival or other tough Covid-19 rules. However, dismantling disease control measures is unlikely to attract a flood of tourists.

Experts say local businesses desperately need a greater visitor influx after the Covid-19 pandemic hampered international travel and left key tourist hotspots without a trace of tourists.

According to the Tourism Council of Thailand’s President Chamnan Srisawat, tourists will return to the kingdom, but the tour operators’ survival will be a challenge.

“Less than half of tourism businesses have resumed, and those that are open again don’t have enough customers to operate profitably,” he said.

Thailand, a tourism-dependent country, received 40 million visitors, who spent 1.9 million baht in 2019. After the pandemic, in 2021, it only received 428,000 arrivals.

In this year’s first quarter, the nation saw a hike in international travelers figures, expecting 9.3 million foreign arrivals in 2022 with 65.9 billion baht in travel spending, an increase of 86% compared to figures for the same period in 2021. However, the numbers are far below expected.

A World Bank report on Wednesday said the number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand is expected to barely reach 60% of pre-pandemic levels, or 24 million international arrivals, as far as 2024.

Many factors have hampered the Thai government’s efforts to boost tourism, which represents 12% of the country’s gross domestic product, including Chinese tourists’ absence.

More than a quarter of arrivals used to be from China, but the nation has missed out on that crucial influx as Beijing maintains strict travel restrictions amid its Covid Zero policy.

Additionally, tour operators are struggling to recover financially after the pandemic hit. Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said hotels needed to see an increase in the occupancy rate of 50% from 30%.

According to the Bank of Thailand, hotels had debts totaling more than 400 billion with Thai commercial banks in late 2021. Also, the tourism industry lost over 3 million workers since the pandemic began, the Tourism Council of Thailand’s estimates unveiled.

Key tourist destinations like Phuket, which reported 800,000 arrivals a month and 80%-90% occupancy rates before the pandemic, have also seen numbers fall and are struggling to recover from the crisis, with just 100,000 tourists a month or less.

However, tourism numbers are expected to begin to rebound at the end of the year as the high season arrives and Europeans look for warm spots to escape the cold of winter.

“This is a resilient industry. We are confident that demand will not only return to pre-pandemic levels, but likely exceed what we have ever witnessed before,” Garth Simmons, chief executive officer for Southeast Asia at Accor SA, commented.