In Thailand, the crisis has left the tourism industry bloodless, with just over 73,000 foreign visitors to the kingdom in the first eight months of 2021, up from nearly 40 million in 2019.
The losses are in the tens of billions of dollars and more than three million people have lost their jobs.
The country, especially Bangkok, will take a long time to heal its wounds, warn professionals in the sector.
The Thai capital was the most visited city in the world before the pandemic with nearly 23 million international tourists in 2018, against just over 19 million for Paris and London, according to an annual ranking published in 2019 by the company MasterCard.
Today, the Chinatown district, a must-see street food paradise for travelers before the crisis, is in disaster. At the foot of the brightly colored illuminated signs, many stalls have lowered the curtains and the tuk-tuks drivers are idle. Samran, a driver for 25 years, now earns only three dollars a day.
“I have not taken care of a single tourist since April 2020”, when Thailand was closed to international flights, he laments.
The quarantine for vaccinated travelers is removed
Authorities have since reopened the borders but imposed a strict 14-day quarantine in a licensed hotel, discouraging visitors.
The rules were relaxed from July, only for international arrivals on the island of Phuket (south), which attracted only a few tens of thousands of people, a drop in the bucket.
To avoid sinking a sector that represented nearly 20% of GDP before the pandemic, the government is removing, from November 1, the quarantine for vaccinated travelers from around 40 countries considered to be “at low risk” (China , United States, Australia, France, United Kingdom, Germany…). They will have to provide a negative covid test carried out in the country of origin, do a second one within 24 hours of their arrival, and stay overnight at the hotel.
“We are not about to see the Chinese again”
“Business will pick up again”, hopes Thanansat, who has been selling roast duck for ten years in Chinatown. “But we are not about to see the Chinese again”, by far the main market (more than 25% of tourist arrivals in Thailand in 2019).
Anyone leaving China remains subject to a quarantine of at least 14 days upon their return, which is a deterrent.
As for Indians and Russians, two other major markets for Thailand, there is no indication that they will be able to return anytime soon.
“We are really waiting for the Thai government to lift the ban on alcohol which does not encourage tourists to come back,” said Daniel Kerr, manager of the Chatrium Hotel, a five-star hotel with 400 rooms on the Chao Praya River. The occupancy rate of the establishment fell below 10% at the worst of the crisis. For the end of the year celebrations, more than half of the rooms are reserved… 85% by Thai customers. “The trend is encouraging”, however, assures the director. “We managed to keep the majority of our teams and we are going to hire again”.
Finding qualified staff is difficult. “A lot of employees have returned to their province and are not going to come back quickly. There are still too many uncertainties ”.
In the meantime, the Chatrium, like many hotels, is adapting. Three watchwords: security against covid-19; flexibility to allow the customer to easily modify their reservation; competitiveness in order to offer the most attractive price possible in the face of competition which promises to be very strong.
On the side of the authorities, we want to be reassuring. “We are doing everything to ensure that the reopening is sustainable,” Pongsakorn Kwanmuang, spokesperson for the Bangkok Metropole Administration (BMA), told AFP. Some 70% of Bangkokians are already fully vaccinated and health precautions remain important.
The BMA anticipates that the tourism industry will return to normal levels “around mid-2022”. Professionals, more pessimistic, are counting on 2024. “I will not survive”, worries Samran who does not receive any help from the government. “What are they waiting for? That I beg in the streets? That I am starving? “.
letelegramme Fr Trans