Thailand wants to turn away from mass tourism and target the rich

Thailand’s tourism revival strategy is to target the big spenders looking for privacy and social distancing in the COVID-19 era, rather than trying to attract large numbers of visitors.

The pandemic is an opportunity to reset the sector, which has become dependent on Chinese groups and backpackers. Once the country’s borders are reopened and the so-called travel bubbles agreed, marketing efforts will be directed towards the wealthier people who want a holiday with minimal risk, Tourism Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said in an interview. .

The government will initially allow a small number of arrivals, such as some business executives and medical tourists. It is also working with the travel industry to identify and invite people in target demographic groups, which will likely include former visitors to luxury resorts on the islands of Phuket, Samui, Phangan and Phi Phi, the minister said. Phuket is “a prototype” because it has all the necessary facilities.

People may be required to take COVID-19 tests before traveling and upon arrival, choose a single resort island, and stay for a minimum period of time.

“High-end visitors” will be able to travel freely during their stay on the island and will be allowed to return home or other destinations in Thailand after the minimum of 14 days has elapsed. The country plans to woo these visitors, perhaps during the winter months of November through February, when European and American travelers seek warmer climates, Phiphat said.

“A person can easily spend up to five staying in the best hotels,” he said, adding that full, free travel should become a “thing of the past”.

Thailand isn’t the only country grappling with the question of how and when to reopen for visitors. Across Southeast Asia – one of the most tourism-dependent regions in the world – hotels and travel companies are slowly gaining traction as countries that have managed to flatten their virus curves loosen up lock restrictions.

Thailand’s first travel bubble pacts, with countries like Japan and Australia, are unlikely to be ready until at least August, Phiphat said. Thailand is also considering a program to allow visitors from specific Chinese cities and provinces, he said.

Thailand’s borders are currently closed to all but essential travel until June 30. Most restrictions on domestic travel were lifted this month.

The goal is for Thailand to have 10 million foreign arrivals this year – a quarter of 2019’s tally – Phiphat said. Total tourism revenue is estimated at 1.23 trillion baht ($ 39.6 billion) this year, down 59% from last year.

The tourism sector will account for around 6% of gross domestic product in 2020, up from 18% last year, Phiphat said. The shortage of travelers is one reason Thailand’s economy is expected to contract by as much as 6% this year. The government is deploying stimulus measures representing 15% of GDP, according to World Bank estimates.

A lockdown, social distancing, tight border control and near universal adoption of face masks have allowed Thailand to limit its official virus count to just over 3,000, with 58 deaths.

The government recently relaxed the lockdown and has not detected any local transmission of the novel coronavirus for more than three weeks.

Phiphat said Thailand sees the crisis as an opportunity to address issues that existed before the pandemic, including the overcrowding of some beaches and temples and the destruction of the environment.

In the calm months without foreign travelers, sea turtles returned to lay eggs on Thai beaches, pink dolphins were seen frolicking with fishermen and manatees swam to shore to munch on sea grasses, said Phiphat.

“If we don’t use this chance to create the most benefits for the industry, Thailand will be the loser,” he said. “This is the opportunity to reset the entire tourism system. “

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