Politics

Optimism shines as tourism barriers lifted


PHUKET: Local hoteliers are feeling good about Phuket’s tourism revival prospects after the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in Bangkok last Friday (June 17) announced the easing of major restrictions that were highly criticised for deterring tourism arrivals.

Officials at Phuket airport organise tourists entering Thailand on visas on arrival. Photo: TAC Phuket

The easing of restrictions will, among other effects, see the Thailand Pass Certificate of Entry no longer required from next Friday (July 1). Also already in effect is the lifting of the requirement to wear a face mask in general public areas outdoors.

“Phuket is certainly seeing a gradual return of tourism, and we’re seeing more corporate mega events and weddings returning to the island ‒ this is encouraged by the ease of travel restrictions and increase in airlift and frequency of flights to the island,” said Bjorn Courage, President of the Phuket Hotels Association.

“Phuket Sandbox was the first indication of positive international borders reopening in Southeast Asia. Our island is ready, businesses are back to normal business capacity and we’re ready to have tourists back,” Mr Courage told The Phuket News.

“That said, our industry is facing a massive challenge in human resources. There has been a substantial talent flight out of hotels and shortages in skills hospitality is a clear and present danger,” Mr Courage noted.

“Our focus at Phuket Hotels Association is now highly focused on upskilling existing staff and education in college and universities to provide a sustainable future in the industry. Brand Thailand is the face of the nation and our hotels are at the forefront of a global brand, so it’s a critical time for action.” (See story here.)

Following the CCSA’s announcements last Friday, which includes nightlife venues to return to normal trading hours from July 1, Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakan told reporters, “The Kingdom is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, but tourism businesses have long complained that its requirement for foreigners to submit multiple documents ‒ from vaccine and swab test certificates to medical insurance and hotel bookings ‒ was impeding the sector’s recovery.”

Thailand was visited by nearly 40 million people in 2019, but received less than 1% of that number last year despite easing its quarantine requirements, Mr Phiphat noted.

“Though tourism has picked up in recent months, the industry is far from recovering, with huge jobs and business losses in a sector that typically accounts for about 12% of Thai gross domestic product,” he added.

MOVE PRAISED

Sanan Angubolkul, Chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are likely to breathe a sigh of relief as they can resume normal operations after the government announced the relaxations.

The battered tourism sector is expected to recover after the government approved the proposal to scrap the Thailand Pass requirement for overseas tourists. A tourism recovery will help boost the country’s economy in the second half of this year, he said, forecasting more than 6 million foreign arrivals this year, reported the Bangkok Post.

According to Mr Sanan, the extension of service hours for bars, pubs and karaoke clubs beyond midnight will also be a sign for restaurants, taxis and other businesses to resume their services as normal.

“Income from nighttime businesses across the country is estimated at B30-50 billion per month. We expect B200-300bn worth of money circulation will resume in the second half,” he said.

“In combination with income from foreign tourists, as much as B500-700bn is estimated to circulate in the economy in the second half, encouraging people to spend more in the remaining months of the year,” he added.

FURTHER EASING

However, tourism businesses have urged the government to further relax restrictions to stimulate the economy.

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, President of the Thai Hotels Association, said at the recent ‘Thailand Moving Together’ seminar held in Bangkok that the greatest concern following the reopening of the country is a lack of workers, as many former employees are hesitant to return due to the instability of tourism demand.

Phuket Tourist Association’s Vice President of International Marketing, Nantida Atiset, stated that Thailand’s air connectivity must also be improved to increase capacity and provide support for chartered flights, particularly from India and major international destinations.

Of note, the PTA is organising a tourism road show to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore in early August.

Echoing Ms Nantida’s sentiments, Somsong Sachaphimukh, Vice President of the Tourism Council of Thailand, noted that as many as 300-400 Indian couples are currently planning wedding ceremonies in Thailand for 2022.

He added that the Diwali festival in October, as well as the 75th anniversary of India-Thailand diplomatic relations, will also drive this market.





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