TAT cool but attentive about outbreak of virus in China

published : 7 Jan 2020 at 04:01

Foreign tourists queue at a health control counter at Suvarnabhumi airport. The TAT is monitoring a viral outbreak in China's Hubei province. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is calm but cautious about the mysterious viral outbreak in China's Hubei province as Chinese New Year approaches.

TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said its Shanghai office is monitoring the situation to ensure Chinese authorities are implementing quarantine procedures strictly.

If any markets have inquiries about this situation, the TAT plans to send them reassurances, citing preventive measures at international airports that link 58 flights per week from Hubei offering 8,144 seats. Its goal is to prevent the spread of the outbreak in Thailand.

Thailand has experience in dealing with outbreaks, with the SARS virus in 2003 and avian influenza (H5N1) in 2004. Past practice can inform measures this time, he said.

"The sentiment of the Chinese market hasn't changed. The average growth for January is still at 20%, but we have to acknowledge there was an unusual drop in the same period last year after the boat accident in Phuket," said Mr Yuthasak.

He said another development that should be a cause of concern is the tension between the US and Iran that is now escalating. Since the Strait of Hormuz crisis last year, the Iranian market dropped by 50% in 2019.

Overall, the Middle East slid by 5%, which prompted the TAT to be cautious of how this situation will affect other countries in the region.

Another factor that may slow arrivals from the Middle East this year is the months-long Expo 2020 in Dubai, which will run from October 2020 to April 2021.

The first world expo in the Middle East will keep some regional travellers at home rather than taking trips abroad, said Mr Yuthasak.

Thai Lion Air (TLA) chief executive Aswin Yangkirativorn insisted the forward bookings from 18 routes in China this month are still strong at over 70%.

During Chinese New Year, the rate will rise to 85-90%.

"TLA is complying with precautionary measures from Airports of Thailand [AoT], even though we don't have direct flights to Wuhan, Hubei's capital," he said.

"We only have a few routes to nearby cities such as Shanghai."

Mr Aswin voiced more concern over Thai outbound travellers who tend to be more sensitive to health news and may cancel plans to visit China in the near future if the panic spreads further.

Santisuk Klongchaiya, chief executive of Thai AirAsia (TAA), insists on working closely with AoT in Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports and international quarantine stations at airports to screen, filter and monitor possibly infected passengers from Wuhan.

Since the first case was recorded, TAA, which operates double daily flights from Bangkok to Wuhan and a daily Phuket to Wuhan flight, has yet to report any cases of the viral pneumonia.

"The flow of passengers from 21 Chinese routes is solid as the sentiment of Chinese New Year is driving the market, including the Wuhan route," said Mr Santisuk.

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