Tourism operators in Pattaya and Bangkok have expressed concern about unequal opportunities to welcome tourists because they are not in a sandbox scheme as the Test & Go programme is suspended indefinitely.
These operators have a negative business outlook and expect more job losses.
Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, acting president of the Chon Buri Tourism Council, said the tourism sector in popular areas such as Pattaya and Bangkok has to brace for a further slowdown without inclusion in the sandbox scheme.
The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration on Friday approved three additional sandbox destinations, covering Surat Thani (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao), Krabi and Phangnga, in addition to Phuket.
It also extended the suspension of the Test & Go quarantine waiver scheme indefinitely.
Mr Thanet said the occupancy rate in Pattaya is expected to drop to 10-15% in February from 20% this month, while smaller hotels might have to temporary close and lay off workers.
“The government needs to learn from other countries on how to cope and live with the fast-spreading Omicron variant instead of implementing stringent travel rules when new cases surge without offering any financial support to operators,” he said.
Pattaya and the Chon Buri Provincial Public Health Office will continue to prepare measures to request entry into the sandbox programme, despite a surge in daily cases coming predominantly from night entertainment venues, said Mr Thanet.
He said the province has prepared sufficient beds to handle an outbreak, with 18,000 “hospitel” beds and another 6,000 hotel rooms that can be converted into alternative quarantine facilities.
Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said because Bangkok is the country’s key gateway it needs to be included in the sandbox scheme, but with more stringent measures and cooperation from hoteliers to closely monitor guests.
She said the hotel outlook is expected to hit rock bottom, similar to before the country’s reopening, as hoteliers lack income from both foreign guests and domestic meetings and seminars by state agencies, which have ordered staff to work from home.
Pongsakorn Ketprapakorn, president of the Tourism Council of Phangnga, said with more sandbox provinces, tourists who may have earlier decided to skip Thailand because Test & Go was unavailable could change their minds thanks to wider travel options apart from the Phuket sandbox.
Tourists who visit Khao Lak normally stay for at least 14 days, up to a month, he said.
The occupancy rate in February in Phangnga could reach 45%, compared with 20-30% at the moment, helping to offset losses from the suspension of Test & Go, said Mr Pongsakorn.
Charintip Tiyaphorn, president of the Tourism Council of Krabi, said operators in the province would like to operate as an Andaman sandbox, allowing tourists to travel between Phuket, Krabi and Phangnga during their seven-day stay.
However, each province has to prove it has effective control of the virus situation before the scheme can extend to more areas, said Ms Charintip.
She said the occupancy rate next month is expected to stay at 30% if there is no sudden change in travel policy, before improving to 30-40% in March when Krabi will welcome familiarisation trips from Europe and the US.