A vaccine for the novel coronavirus is needed to help reverse a plunge in Thailand’s critical tourism sector, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Visitor numbers are set to tumble 60% to 16 million this year, almost halving foreign tourism income, but those numbers could go even lower as the world waits for an inoculation or if a second wave of infections materialises, according to the TAT.
“Everyone is waiting on a vaccine,” TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said in an interview on Friday. “People are expecting that it will take at least 18 months — which means we’ll have to remain in a state of fear and worry.”
Thailand was particularly reliant on tourism spending, especially by Chinese visitors, and the sector’s woes leave it with one of emerging Asia’s bleakest economic outlooks. Mr Yuthasak said the industry will have to restore confidence in the safety of leisure travel, adding October is the earliest he expects Chinese holidaymakers to return.
“We must all enter into a new normal after Covid-19,” he said, estimating foreign-tourism receipts this year may amount to at most 1 trillion baht, down from 1.9 trillion baht in 2019.
For instance, Thai islands that used to grapple with overcrowding and environmental degradation will instead have to implement social distancing. Sea turtles have returned to beaches to lay eggs because tourists have disappeared, he said.
“It can’t go back to the way tourism once was here,” Mr Yuthasak said. “This could be an opportunity within a crisis — to make sure we improve, so that in the future any revenue from tourism will be more sustainable, and wealth will spread to smaller communities.”