Mass tourism to Thailand might never return

The Tourist Authority of Thailand does not expect a return to mass tourism and the environmental damage it creates.

The governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand has intimated that the country may never get back to welcoming 40 million foreign visitors every year. Yuthasak Supasorn said that although Thailand had relaxed entry restrictions for some groups in the past two months, there were only 1,200 international arrivals in October, a far cry from the three million a month prior to the pandemic.

He was referring to the fact that more categories of foreigners could now apply for the essential certificate of entry from their home-based Thai embassy. The newer groups have included farang who have bought their own condominium here and investors who have obtained the Elite visa. There is also a 60-day tourist visa available from most countries, including the US, the UK and most of mainland Europe. However, the need to quarantine in a registered hotel for two weeks on arrival is proving to be a negative factor for many.

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Yuthasak stressed that the resurgence of the coronavirus is likely to hamper international travel for some time. According to a survey by 29 TAT overseas offices, tourists said they will be unlikely to take overseas trips before next summer. Even then, there may be resistance as air travel is likely to become more expensive and with extra rules. Even the rebound from China may be slower than predicted as it was far from clear that the Chinese government would be encouraging its citizens to take overseas vacations in 2021 rather than domestic ones.

The governor said the most sensible tourist policy for Thailand was to boost domestic trips by Thais and expats to achieve 1.2 trillion baht from 170 million internal trips in the calendar year 2022. As regards the foreign market, the best estimate was that 8 million non-Thais would enter from mid-2021 to mid-2022. He suggested that Thailand should promote itself as a holiday paradise for the better-off providing safety, hygiene and a focus on higher spending.

Jason Hammond, spokesman for the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said that Thailand’s tourist industry would certainly improve once a safe vaccine was available globally in 2021 or 2022, but might look different. “It might be harder to offer cheap vacations like in the past because costs are rising all the time including more expensive aircraft seats and the possibility of mandatory insurance of some kind.”

He added that the numbers of westerners visiting Thailand had been going down for many years and there was no reason for this trend to reverse as the country was no longer seen as a cheap, long-haul destination.