Tourism sector scrambles for virus support

TAT cuts arrivals projection to 33m

published : 28 Feb 2020 at 04:41

Foreign tourists wear face masks to protect themselves from coronavirus or Covid-19 as they take a walk around Chatuchak weekend market on Feb 15, 2020. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

Tourism businesses have been knocked comatose by the virus panic spreading around the country, while the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) cut its estimate for international arrivals to 33 million in 2020.

The Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) reported foreign tourists using Atta member services from January to Feb 20 was 500,232, a decrease of 40.7%. During Feb 1-20, the numbers slid 74.1% to 90,908 tourists.

Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) said Thai outbound travellers could drop to 8-9 million from 11 million last year if the virus impact continues throughout the year.

On Thursday TAT cut its outlook for foreign arrivals this year to 33 million, down 3 million from the latest target of 36 million and 6-7 million shy of the 2019 total of 39.8 million.

Domestic tourism is shaky as hoteliers experienced weaker demand from corporate meetings and seminars that were cancelled as fears of the virus escalated.

Suksit Suvunditkul, chief executive of Deevana Hotels and Resorts and vice-president of the Thai Hotels Association's southern chapter, said hotels are receiving more cancellations from government agencies and private companies such as banks.

The destinations that target the meeting and incentive market such as Krabi have an occupancy rate of around 65%, down from 85-90% in a normal situation, while hotels in Phuket town that target the domestic market saw guests drop by 80%.

"We're waiting for the cabinet meeting on March 3. If the government doesn't come up with effective measures, operators have to gather to create more pressure," said Chairat Trirattanajarasporn, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

He said the government needs to see a strong reaction form the private sector as local operators are in a coma as a result of the rising panic.

Thanapol Cheewarattanaporn, president of TTAA, said this is the most difficult situation he has experienced in 30 years of working in the industry.

"Health is quite a sensitive topic, especially when we are facing the global spread of a deadly disease, which has a psychological impact on potential tourism," said Mr Thanapol.

Atta president Vichit Prakobgosol said a few Chinese operators discussed bringing tour groups back in April with Thai operators.

"They have to monitor when the Chinese government will lift the travel bans," said Mr Vichit.

There were only 703 tourists from China who came through Atta members in February, down 99.7% year-on-year. But Atta hopes to tally 9-10 million Chinese tourists this year.

The Tourism and Sports Ministry will propose a package of measures to the cabinet: relaxing debt payments of employees in the tourism business for their houses, credit cards, cars and personal loans; cutting the excise tax on fuel for public buses and travel boats; funding online travel agents to reduce or waive their commissions for six months; and developing programmes to drive operators' competitiveness.

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