Expat owned Thai tourism businesses unhappy about government strategy

Published:  26 Jun at 6 PM
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Expat SME owners and locals in Thailand's tourism sector are unhappy at government plans to target big-spender tourists.

Thailand’s hospitality sector has been more than hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, losing up to 75 per cent of its annual visitor totals and forcing the permanent closure of large numbers of mid- and lower-range accommodation and eateries as well as top-end hotels and restaurants. The bulk of tourists who arrived before the outbreak were from China, travelling on package tours and using Chinese-owned businesses – far from the type of holidaymaker now being targeted.

The government’s strategy for avoiding a deep recession by targeting high-end spenders has caused fury amongst less-exalted Thai and expat business owners who’re desperate for at least enough trade to stay solvent after what many see as an over-extended lockdown. The present-day governmental attempts to establish travel bubbles with destinations home to wealthy residents is being seen as an attempt to re-brand the country’s tourist sector which is doomed to failure.

Plans to persuade wealthy foreigners to choose the country over upscale tourism hubs such as the Maldives and Bali with their exclusive, expensive island retreats are, according to experts in the sector, doomed to fail, thus leaving those in the lower rungs of the hospitality trade even more desperate as no official attempt has been made to attract former customers.

Medical tourism is also being targeted as a way to restart the economy, but the prices now being charged to foreigners by the private hospitals are close to, and in some cases, less than those in many European Union member state facilities. Another issue with these measures is that wealthy visitors may well be subjected to pre-travel covid-19 screening as well as restricted to one location in which they must remain for at least 14 days.

It’s not just Thailand which is facing a dilemma when attempting to restart the economic benefits of popularity with travellers, with the whole of Southeast Asia in a similar position. Thailand is betting on some 10 million tourist arrivals between now and the end of the year, but will be facing stiff competition from its near neighbours, several of which may have more practical ideas as to who can enter their countries and for how long.
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