Bangkok’s Kin & Kof Cafe was ideally placed to capture the throngs walking past the city’s gilded Grand Palace, its orbit of opulent Temples, before the pandemic closed Thailand off to the rest the world in March last year.
The beautiful grounds of the former royal residence are a must-see in Bangkok, one of the most popular vacation spots around the globe. COVID-19 was a lockdown and a severe freeze on foreign tourists. This decimated a pillar in Thailand’s economy and destroyed Kin & Koff’s client base.
Siripong Sanomaiwong, who is in the business of serving tourists, welcomed the news that Thailand would lift long quarantine mandates on some fully vaccinated foreigners starting Nov. 1. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Prayut Cha-ocha on Oct. 11, via a televised address.
Siripong, who was sitting in his cafe next to the palace walls, stated that he believes the government is “acting the right way” because it cannot hide from the virus.
He said, “We must live with the COVID; together we must live… in safety,” reflecting the general mood of uncertainty among the business community.
Both risk and reward
Prayut acknowledged these risks in his address. Prayut acknowledged that daily COVID cases would rise due to new arrivals, but he insisted that Thailand was ready and able to take advantage of the November-March high season.
He said, “We will need to monitor the situation closely and determine how we can contain and manage that situation.”
According to the World Bank, tourism was responsible for 20% of Thailand’s gross domestic product and 1 in 5 jobs in Thailand in 2019, when 40 million tourists visited the country. According to the government, Thailand will see 100,000 tourists in 2021. They are aiming for 1,000,000 through this high season.
According to the Tourism Council of Thailand (an industry body), the lockdown has resulted in the loss of 3 million tourism-related jobs. Despite this, many Thais might not agree with the government’s timing.
A poll by Thailand’s Suan Dusit Rajabhat University was conducted between Oct. 11-14. 60.1% of the respondents indicated that Thailand is not ready to reopen its doors to tourists. The main reason was Thailand’s low vaccination rates.
Although Bangkok and Phuket, a popular tourist island, have successfully vaccinated large numbers of locals with the vaccine, the national rate has risen to 40%. The number of daily COVID cases has risen to nearly 22,000 by mid-August, but they have not fallen below 7,000. Thailand has recorded approximately 1.88 million cases.
Thitinan Puongsudhirak is a professor in political science at Bangkok Chulalongkorn University. He said that local polls can be unpredictable, but that he believed Suan Dusit’s latest effort reflected the popular mood.
He stated, “The general consensus is that there are still many cases of infection and the government has not managed to properly administer vaccines…. lives are at risk and it is important to not reopen too soon.”
These fears are being allayed by the government’s initial opening to 46 countries, which includes major markets like the United States, China and much of Europe, as well as some Asian neighbours.
Visitors must show proof of vaccinations and a negative test before departing. They also need to have COVID insurance that covers up to $50,000. To receive the results of the second test, they will need to wait one night at a government-approved hotel. They will be allowed to travel the country if they are cleared. They will need to spend longer in a hospital or approved hotel if they are not cleared.
Siripong believes that this will allow his cafe to regain approximately 40% of its business before the pandemic. He’s also confident that the authorities will keep the virus under control.
Katenaphas muattong isn’t so sanguine.
After the pandemic, her mother quit her job as a caterer to help her parents manage their small restaurant near the palace. Their two employees saw their wages reduced and were forced to leave. Although online delivery helped them survive, their business is now only a third of what it once was.
Katenaphas is concerned that the government might apply entry rules in “Thai style”, a term she used to describe a loose approach to enforcement.
She said, “On the one hand, we should open because the business is going down.” “But, if we don’t have a plan, we should wait.”
After mulling the thoughts for a while, she decided to support the government and suggested that Thailand take the risk.
Val Saopayana, Vali Villa owner, is more of an optimist.
The professional artist transformed her childhood home into an affordable boutique hotel. It is located just a few blocks away from Bangkok’s Khaosan Road. This popular tourist spot was once filled with bars and clubs that played dance music until the early hours of the morning. The strip was almost empty on Friday afternoons, with no customers. This is a microcosm for Thailand’s tourism sector.
Val is optimistic about reclaiming at most half her pre-pandemic business in Thailand, now that it has reopened to foreigners.
She said, “I feel confident that we can do it” and the Thai economy will be stronger because she believes in the system of medicine and that they do their best.
She said, “We just hope it will get back to normal very soon.” “We must believe, and we need to have positive energy. People will come,” she said.
Another industry body, the Association of Thai Travel Agents says that “normal” may take longer than expected as major markets like China still require weeks of quarantine for travelers returning from China.
“When there are that many quarantine days, it will be a real limitation for us. Pilomrat Isvarphornchai, ATTA board member, said that while we are making great progress, the opening will depend on the restrictions and quarantine days in the origin countries.
She stated that the association was “realistic” about the upcoming high season and predicted a 20% return of pre-pandemic inbound business for agencies still open. According to the ATTA’s most recent member survey, nearly half of those surveyed had closed in the 19 months since lockdown began. Some for good.
“In terms economics, we are now at the point where we will have to learn how we can live with the pandemic. Not just in terms tourism, but also opening up domestically with restaurants and retail stores. It must happen immediately,” Pilomrat stated.