Bangkok, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Thailand is aiming to reopen for visitors — at a date yet to be determined — through “travel bubbles” with countries and regions relatively free of the coronavirus, but will prioritize medical and luxury tourism in order to resuscitate a crucial sector that accounts for 15 percent of its GDP.
“The countries we partner up with must be quite free from the coronavirus. It does not have to be the entire country: we can allow visitors from certain towns or provinces,” Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said earlier this week.
Thai authorities are expected to lift the state of emergency, which has been in effect since 25 March, on 1 July. The country began gradually lifting its nationwide restrictions in mid-May, allowing shopping malls and other establishments to reopen.
However, Thailand is yet to set a date for lifting the flight ban — initially set to expire on 30 June — in a country which received 40 million tourists in 2019, including 11 million from China.
The government is now planning to carry out a gradual reopening of borders during the third and fourth quarters of the year, and debating the best strategy to revive the tourist sector, initially based on the specific profile of visitors.
“Our target groups are businessmen because they have high consumer buying power. They also have organized plans which could be easily tracked and a certificate from their company, therefore we know who they are,” Taweesilp Visanyuothin, the spokesperson of the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration, said in a press conference on Friday.
“Another group is medical tourists (…) because they have a higher consumer buying power than average tourists. Their travels are quite necessary and they also have medical records or other certified documents that make it easy to track (them),” he added.
In 2019, foreign tourists generated revenues worth more than 2 trillion baht ($63.7 billion) in Thailand, but the numbers have crashed drastically this year.
According to the ministry of tourism and sports, the first quarter of 2020 witnessed the arrival of 6,691,574 tourists, compared to 13,990,252 in the same period last year, amounting to a 52.17 percent drop which also comes up to a 52.79 percent loss in revenue.
The Siam Commercial Bank estimates that the number of tourist arrivals in Thailand during the entire year could drop by as much as 75 percent or around 10 million visitors, as per a report in local media.
Thailand was the first country to report a Covid-19 case outside China – the original epicenter of the disease – but due to stringent containment measure, it has managed to limit the outbreak to 3,129 cases and 58 deaths so far.
However, the economic impact of the epidemic could result in the Thai GDP contracting by 5.3 percent, according to the country’s central bank. EFE-EPA