More concessions needed to spur domestic tourism
Tourism is a vital driver for Thailand's growth, so much so that when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it shook the foundations of an entire industry -- worth billions of baht -- and caused the Thai economy to fall to its knees.
The ensuing lockdown caused the nation's vibrant tourism sector, which once played a pivotal role in the economy and helped related businesses thrive despite weak growth in other sectors, to collapse in the blink of an eye.
Thailand is a tourism magnet that attracts visitors from around the world. In the last decade alone, tens of millions of international tourists have visited the kingdom.
Tackling Covid-19 has been an unprecedented situation for the nation and all we could do was sit and watch as the pandemic made tens of thousands in the tourism industry jobless. The more fortunate ones opted to have their salaries cut as the economy struggled to stay afloat.
Hotels were probably the first to be impacted among tourism-related businesses, largely because of their dependence on foreign tourists to generate revenue.
The government's stimulus packages to revive the crippled tourism industry over the past several months have not had the far-reaching impact many would have expected.
One clear indication of this was when at least 5,000 job applicants turned up at the Miracle Grand Convention Hotel in Lak Si district earlier this month to apply for just 300 positions.
Under the new normal, Thailand has managed to flatten the curve with zero local transmission infections reported domestically. New cases of Covid-19 have only been reported in state quarantine among returnees.
This has given hotels the confidence they needed to cautiously reopen for business. However, it will take time before they can expect to make a profit from tourist spending.
The fact that the nation is still contemplating opening its borders to foreign tourists is a wise decision, given the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 cases re-emerging if the plan is not executed with proper caution or timing.
Needless to say, the mass turnout of applicants at the Miracle Grand, which has seen a 90% decline in visitors from foreign countries and local clients during the Covid-19 lockdown, reflects the dire straits that the Thai economy has found itself in since the pandemic.
A head chef at the hotel shared how his four-star property has put him under immense pressure to reach a target each month to help run the property as there has been almost zero occupancy.
This is after the fact that he had to accept a 50% reduction in his salary and a reduced number of kitchen staff to work with.
This is the reality for many who are still blessed to have a job in the hotel industry today.
It is in pressing situations such as these that the public expects to see their government perform. The government must introduce schemes that have the potential to work in bringing about positive and sustainable change in the current situation.
One travel stimulus scheme that has actively involved public participation has been the "We Travel Together" campaign, which may be extended until year-end to help increase tourism momentum.
While this scheme has its merits, attracting Thais to travel on throwaway prices within the country has not received the type of welcome that was expected.
Tourism and sports minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has attributed the slow uptake of the domestic stimulus scheme launched back in mid-July to reticence among visitors as they are waiting for more privileges in the second phase of the campaign, which will focus on weekdays and second-tier provinces.
The idea behind the "We Travel Together" campaign is not new. It has been used every time the country's tourism industry finds itself at rock bottom.
Another similar moment for Thailand was during the 2004 tsunami. The damage to the beach resorts along the Andaman Sea, as well as the high tourist death count, led to a steep decline of the tourism industry.
I recall back then how five-star establishments slashed their room and villa prices to encourage local travellers through similar government-led campaigns.
Mind you, not every hotel proprietor I interviewed felt that this domestic stimulus plan was unique. People who thought differently did not have much of a say, so little came of their opinions.
Fast forward to today and we are hearing that the newly elected president of the Thai Hotels Association Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi has asked the government to include expats in the second phase of tourism stimulus, saying those who pay taxes should receive equal rights.
This I believe is a great idea and should have been done a long time ago.
She has some valid reasons to bring them on board that in my opinion should work well to drive travel recovery.
What I like in particular is her view on how the scheme needs additional privileges, such as an increase in the subsidy for accommodation spending from 40% to 50%, or the launch of a tax deduction scheme for tourism spending as in the past.
I am looking forward to seeing how she plans to set these measures into action and that of financial aid, such as soft loans, while we wait for international tourists to return.
The Thai government has to show initiative by actively working together with travel-related agencies to bring about a solution that will genuinely work for the masses who have found themselves jobless in the Covid-19 era instead of just benefitting a small group of people.
Yvonne Bohwongprasert is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Yvonne Bohwongprasert is a senior writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.