After more than two years of severe hardships brought about by Covid-19 outbreaks, tourism-related businesses are seeing a glimpse of hope after the government agreed on Friday to abandon the pre-registration process for foreign visitors and the requirement for face masks to be worn in public.
Bars, pubs and other entertainment venues are allowed to extend their hours beyond the current limit of midnight.
Sanan Angubolkul, chairman of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are likely to breathe a sigh of relief as they can resume normal operations after the government announced the relaxations.
The battered tourism sector is expected to recover after the government approved the proposal to scrap the Thailand Pass requirement for overseas tourists. A tourism recovery will help boost the country’s economy in the second half of this year, he said, forecasting more than 6 million foreign arrivals this year.
According to Mr Sanan, the extension of service hours for bars, pubs and karaoke clubs beyond midnight will also be a sign for restaurants, taxis and other businesses to resume their services as normal.
“Income from nighttime businesses across the country is estimated at 30-50 billion baht per month. We expect 200-300 billion baht worth of money circulation will resume in the second half,” he said. “In combination with income from foreign tourists, as much as 500-700 billion baht is estimated to circulate in the economy in the second half, encouraging people to spend more in the remaining months of the year.”
Chaichan Chareonsuk, president of the Thai National Shippers’ Council, said the government’s decision will help resuscitate service and tourism businesses.
“Many countries already eased their strict control measures and reopened to foreign tourists, such as Vietnam. It was time for the Thai government to scrap such strict requirements to boost the economy,” he said.
The government’s decision to declare the whole country a “green zone”, allowing all business activities to resume, will speed up efforts to restore the Thai economy to the level before the pandemic, though soaring inflation remains a worry, said the Employers’ Confederation of Thai Trade and Industry (EconThai).
While strict restrictions end for entertainment venues, alcohol sales and the transport of migrant workers, authorities are continuing to categorise all provinces as a surveillance zone. Officials are expected to finalise details to allow a nationwide green zone from July 1.
“The move is good for Thailand, which is driven by tourism and service industries,” said Tanit Sorat, vice-chairman of EconThai. “This is a key measure for a quick economic recovery.”
When all economic activities resume, the bustling atmosphere may result in higher risk for a new Covid outbreak, as infections persist in various parts of the world, said Mr Tanit.
Public health measures must be in place to reduce the chance of an outbreak, he said.
Mr Tanit wants the government to ensure officials understand the regulations applied for green zones to avoid discrepancies among provinces. He is waiting for clearer regulations on the transport of migrant workers, especially construction workers, which constitute a large group.
Mr Tanit expects the green zone measure to pave the way for an easing of the migrant worker shortage. Total legal migrant workers in Thailand stood at 2.9 million before the pandemic, but fell to 2.3 million after Covid-19 hit Thailand in 2020, he said.
Tourism and Sports Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakan is optimistic foreign visitors will reach 7.5 million this year after the government’s easing of rules. Mr Pipat said if the visa fee exemption and extended stays are approved, it could help draw 10 million foreign visitors this year.
He said he is confident the moves will stimulate foreign arrivals to reach 25,000-30,000 per day, up from 20,000-25,000 per day now.
When the high season starts in October, foreign visitors could reach as many as 50,000 per day, said Mr Pipat.
He said the ministry plans to ask the government to exempt visa fees for foreign visitors for six months — from July 1 to Dec 31 — and allow extended stays of up to 45 days, an increase from the current 30-day limit.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said the two keys for tourism growth after Thailand Pass was cancelled are air connectivity and visa policy.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry might hope for 10 million foreign tourists this year, but 8 million is the maximum as there is a lot of work to do in adding direct flights to Thailand, said Mrs Marisa.
She said visa fee exemptions and extending the eligible stay to 45 days are essential to facilitate tourists and help reduce travel costs.
“Eliminating Thailand Pass alone cannot suddenly catalyse growth to 10 million arrivals as we need more efforts to create seamless and price-competitive entry,” said Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council.
The industry needs to wait until November to see a higher volume of long-haul travellers, as the removal of Thailand Pass is happening during the low season, said Mr Thanet.
He said inflation has made tourists choose destinations carefully, so fewer travel restrictions with minimal cost and a shortened process should help accelerate their travel decisions.
The government should incentivise airlines, such as offering subsidies on parking fees and permanently eliminating the TM6 card requirement for tourists, said Mr Thanet.
He said total arrivals could tally 6-7 million this year, assuming the global economy does not crater.
Given that the biggest previous source market China is not allowing most foreign travel, the government’s goal to achieve 10 million foreign arrivals appears quite difficult, said Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.
Mr Sisdivachr said the cancellation of Thailand Pass will benefit neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Laos, with border-crossing entrants leading to an influx of tourists by land.
If the virus is no longer a threat to tourism and the country can facilitate visa policy as requested by tourism operators, Thailand can welcome a maximum of 7 million tourists, he said.
More rule easing
Thanakorn Kuptajit, executive adviser at the Thai Alcohol Beverage Business Association, said the government’s latest relaxation will not only help revive restaurants, souvenir shops, street food vendors and taxis, but also lead to a rebound for the nightlife atmosphere.
“Since we have been allowed to reopen services until midnight from June 1, nightlife and related businesses in Bangkok’s Khao San Road, Chiang Mai and Phuket have recorded sales growth of 20-30% over the previous period,” he said.
“More jobs such as singers, chefs, bartenders and waitresses were hired. More importantly, daily businesses indirectly benefited as there was more active shopping from foreign tourists in Phuket and Pattaya during the day.”
Mr Thanakorn said 80% of tourists use public transport such as taxis, meaning the easing also creates income for this group.
“Tourism is likely to be the business that can build income for the country,” he said.
“To speed up the recovery across regions, the government still needs to revise some rules and measures that do not fit the current situation, such as the ban on alcohol sales from 2-5pm. The government can do this without using any budget. If this rule is eased, we believe tourism business will resume across many regions.”
cradit Bangkok Post