Bangkok, 05 July, 2020 – The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) held a panel discussion on the future of Thai tourism on 1 July. The event was livestreamed over the FCCT’s Facebook page.
The panelists were Mr. Tanes Petsuwan, Deputy Governor for Marketing Communications, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Mr. Varong Israsena Na Ayudhaya, Bangkok Airways Vice President for Mmarketing; Mrs. Marisa Sukosol Nuntibhakdi, Vice President, Thai Hotels Association (THA), Chairman THA’s Environment Committee and Executive Vice President, Sukosol Hotels; Mr. Michael Marshall, Chief Commercial Officer, Minor Hotels and Ms. Jeninne Lee-St. John, Editor-in-Chief, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia.
Speaking first, Mr. Tanes said that the Thai tourism industry has passed its worst phase and is now set to make a slow and steady back to normalcy.
He outlined a range of measures being taken by TAT from the intensive promotion of domestic tourism to a revamping of the annual Thailand Travel Market (TTM) to help the industry recover from what he called the “worst crisis in Thai tourism history.”
“I have been working for TAT for more than 30 years, during which we have faced many crises; such as, SARS, Bird Flu, MERS, the tsunami, even our own political crises, but we have seen nothing like this,” he said.
Mr. Tanes said it will be a long time before Thailand again chalks up the 2019 record visitor arrivals of nearly 40 million. However, he said, the crisis had created an opportunity for the Thai tourism industry to reform itself in preparation for the “New Normal.”
“This is the best time to make it right,” he said. “We have to move away from quantity to quality.”
He said TAT had been closely monitoring the situation in coordination with the government agencies and the private sector ever since the COVID-19 pandemic crisis began in January 2020. The Royal Thai Government provided extensive help to companies and employees affected by the crisis, which alleviated the social impact.
Mr. Tanes outlined the many TAT projects; such as, the Safety and Health Administration (SHA) safety and hygiene certification scheme, the information-sharing webinars, ongoing market research to identify potential source market and demographic segments, and especially the recent focus on reviving domestic tourism following the easing of the lockdowns.
“Nothing is going to be the same again,” Mr. Tanes said. “Even consumer behaviour will change entirely.” However, one key target segment would be the health and wellness sector.
He said that TAT is hoping to see a resumption of international flights soon. If that happens, it is possible that some short-haul tourism from the neighbouring countries could restart by the end of this year.
One very important plus point is that the country’s “Amazing Thailand” brand image remained strong, bolstered by the positive publicity being generated by the success in keeping the pandemic under control.
“We will come back,” Mr. Tanes said. “As soon as the international flights are restored, the entire industry will follow with special offers and deals.”
The other panellists all agreed that it would be a long and difficult recovery period, especially under the new health and safety restrictions faced across the entire travel process; such as, monitoring, certification, and possible quarantine on either one or both sectors of the journey.
Mr. Varong cited the challenge of having to ground the Bangkok Airways’ entire fleet of 40 aircraft during the period of the aviation restrictions. He said that some of the aircraft were resuming flights to Ko Samui, Bangkok Airways’ primary domestic destination, but even these were operating at restricted capacity due to the social distancing regulations.
Mrs. Marisa said the entire Thai hotel sector had been heavily impacted, especially the small- and medium-sized hotels. She thanked the Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha for his personal visit to the Thai Hotels Association (THA) headquarters and his prompt action of some of the items on the assistance wish-list presented to him by the THA.
Mr. Marshall noted that the Minor Group had 550 hotels across multiple brands worldwide, including 56 in Thailand. Nearly all of them had to be shut down during this period, but were now slowly reopening again. He said all the staff had been temporarily laid-off and those who were retained had to take salary cuts. Ms. Jeninne Lee-St. John, Editor-in-Chief, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, talked of the global impact but noted that travel was a resilient industry and would bounce back, as it had after many previous crises. She forecast that the health and wellness sector would be one of the first to comeback.