In Thailand, tourism recovers at snail’s pace

Thailand welcomed 106,117 foreign tourists in first 10 months of 2021, compared with 40 million visitors before pandemic.

The Wider Image: Beach life in Phuket
A tourist prepares to snorkel on a beach of Maiton Island in Phuket, Thailand on March 18, 2016. With its palm-fringed beaches, Buddhist culture and racy nightlife, Thailand has been the poster child for Asian tourism for decades, attracting a range of visitors from backpackers and adventure-seekers, to families and culture vultures. But dark clouds could be forming even as a record of 32 million tourists are expected this year. [File: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Thailand was among the first countries in Asia to reopen for foreign arrivals, and it is seeing a slow recovery, including new hotels touting longer stays for individual travellers.

In the first 10 months of 2021, Thailand saw 106,117 foreign tourists, a drop from 6.7 million in 2020. Before the pandemic, Thailand saw about 40 million visitors a year.

Hospitality firms like Asset World Corporation Pcl, which opened its 19th property this month, saw the majority of its bookings come from Western countries and the Middle East.

“About 70 percent of total bookings came from Europe, including Germany, UK, Scandinavian countries, followed by the US, Middle East, and Asia,” chief executive Wallapa Traisorat told the Reuters news agency, adding that domestic travel helped. “For November, we should see 30 percent occupancy, and in the fourth quarter we hope to see better momentum from the reopening.”

Thailand, one of the region’s most popular destinations, is heavily dependent on tourism. In 2019, 40 million arrivals spent 1.91 trillion Thai baht ($57.3bn).

Centara Hotels and Resorts is moving ahead with plans to open a 1.1 billion baht hotel ($30m) on the island of Samui in December.

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Leh island in Krabi province, Thailand
Tourism generated about 20 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP) before the pandemic [File: Sakchai Lalit/AP]

Initially, the property expects most guests to be locals on longer stays, said Centara Hotels Chief Financial Officer Gun Srisompong.

“Demand patterns have changed. Individual travellers on longer stays and ‘workations’ need more personalisation,” Srisompong said.

Thailand expects only 200,000 foreign tourists this year, and five million in 2022.

Thinner crowds and discounts made for a more pleasant experience said German tourist Markus Klarer.

“It’s a good time to come back to Thailand again,” Klarer said.

Despite the reopening, some businesses said COVID-19 rules still made some things hard.

“Tourists are not fully confident and still confused with government regulations,” said Chitchai Senwong, a restaurant manager in Bangkok, citing a government rule that prohibits alcohol consumption after 9pm (2 GMT).

Source: Reuters