Travel subsidy to resume quickly

Tourism ministry says struggling hotels need help and fraud can be brought under control

published : 18 Dec 2020 at 18:29

A woman shows the We Travel Together app on her smartphone before she registered for the programme on July 15. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The government-sponsored subsidy for local tourists is expected to resume before the New Year to help struggling hotels, the majority of which are not involved in recent fraud cases, says the Tourism and Sports Ministry.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said on Friday that the government should announce the extension of the “We Travel Together” scheme next week, offering a 40% subsidy for 1 million room nights.

The programme was halted on Dec 16 to pave the way for fraud investigations into 514 suspected hotels and stores during the first phase. Most of the scams involved fake bookings, authorities say.

At the time, the government said the scheme could be put on hold for a month, but they have since relented after considering the consequences for hospitality businesses, which recently saw a massive decline in bookings despite the onset of the year-end holiday season.

Authorities will try to tighten the security system and continue the second phase as soon as possible. The goal is to ensure operators do not miss out on opportunities this festive season.

“We have to continue the subsidy as the majority of participating operators didn’t commit any crimes but have suffered as tourists keep delaying their decisions,” said Mr Phiphat.

He said the Tourism Authority of Thailand would communicate with the Finance Ministry and Krungthai Bank on a daily basis for any unusual transactions in the app-based system. If found, the cases should be tackled immediately, and not allowed to escalate as in the past few months.

Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said the government should only suspend operators taking part in fraud as an abrupt halt for a month is too long for high season.

“We have to consider the situation seriously, particularly as hotels in the North are facing serious impact from reports of new coronavirus cases. Without the stimulus, it’s hard for them to stay in the market,” said Mrs Marisa.

She said that in the past few months, hotels have relied heavily on domestic tourism stimulus programmes to stay in business while international guests are not permitted entry.

The decision to postpone the program interrupts the momentum that had been building in recent months, after the average occupancy rate in November closed at 40%, picking up from 30% in October.

In December, average occupancy should run at 50%, if no negative factors intervene.

Mrs Marisa also wants related government agencies to weigh the impact carefully if they agree to amend some rules, such as revoking the eligibility to use hotels in the same area where guests live.

Businesses just saw local guests start to return with “staycation” packages when home-based restrictions were unlocked on Oct 12.

Mrs Marisa said hotels agreed to comply with stricter screening measures, in case the government would like to introduce rules such as verification by facial scan, but complicated technologies may prevent those who are not digitally savvy from taking part in the scheme.

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