Doubts about Thai Airways’ future are damaging international tourist prospects

The future of the Smooth as Silk airline is still mired in controversy.

Travel agents say they are simply being overwhelmed by numerous questions of potential holidaymakers considering vacation choices this summer. Companies such as Discount Travel, TUI and Siam Tours say there has been considerable interest in Thailand as other neighboring countries – Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines – have more or less banned pleasure visits altogether. But the situation is becoming more muddy rather than less.

The latest question mark is the future of Thai Airways International plc following the decision of the Bangkok Bankruptcy Court on May 28 to defer a decision on a bailout plan by creditors until mid-June. The airline would need a cash injection of at least 50 billion baht (1.65 billion US) to continue its “Smooth as Silk” tradition. Currently, most THAI planes are parked idly on runways, although the company does undertake semi-commercial repatriation flights for Thais and non-Thais stuck abroad.

Most THAI aircraft are furloughed at Bangkok airports.

A spokeswoman for Siam Tours said, “The delay about the future of the national carrier, coming on top of a third wave of Covid-19 infections here, has unnerved many would-be vacationers from Europe who are frightened of losing their money or falling ill far from home.” The Tourist Authority of Thailand has confirmed that the most likely source of income this year will European as both China and India have de facto banned their citizens from pleasure trips pending the coronavirus pandemic.

Defenders of THAI say that the airline in recent years has already taken gigantic steps to reduce losses. They include massive staff redundancies, the slashing of routes and huge reductions in the privileges enjoyed by executives. But critics say that the airline made heavy annual losses since 2013 (except for a small profit in 2016), has long suffered from blatant corruption and made awful choices when buying new planes in the 1990s. THAI’s current liabilities are in the region of 400 billion baht (13.2 billion US).

Brits worry that Thailand’s amber light might turn red.

Other worries that would-be travellers to Thailand raise are the complex visa procedures required for the certificate of entry from Thai embassies, confusion between specific Covid-19 insurance and more general illness and accident cover, lack of clarity about the Sandbox concept for quarantine-free visits and concerns that bars, clubs, beaches and tourist sites will still be closed when they get here.

British tourists thinking of long haul have the extra worry about their government’s weird traffic lights identification of foreign countries into green, amber and red. Thailand is an amber-designated country and official government advice is not to come here. Brits returning are expected to self-quarantine at home, but will need to be isolated in hotels at their own expense if amber turns to red. Thailand’s recorded infections are rising daily at the moment.

Arnold Reese, a Manchester travel agent, said, “A few diehards will always get through, but there can be no mass tourism to Thailand with all the doubts swirling around. With long distance airfares, entry requirements and travel insurance all becoming more expensive, Thailand’s tourist reopening is more likely next year. People here have already booked their summer holidays in big numbers and the choice is Europe in 2021.”