On May 16, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand (CAAT) announced the ban on international travel will be extended until 30 June, 2020. This decision will have far-reaching consequences for the country, that has had so much success containing the spread of Covid-19.
Thailand has maintained a low number of cases and few fatalities in the Covid19 crisis. At the moment of writing, just 116 patients are in hospital with the virus, and overall fatalities are limited to 56.
The Government’s focus is, understandably, on a regulated return to normality in the country. For the suffering Thai tourism industry, domestic tourists will be the fastest way to some revenue. However, even if Thais will engage in some sort of ‘revenge travel’, it will not at all be enough to replace the missing revenue from international travelers. The Kingdom’s travel industry was build on years of growth. In 2019 over 39 million international tourist arrivals were counted. With such numbers one month is a long time.
CAAT’s decision to extend the ban on international arrivals to 30 June, a whopping 6 weeks from now, seems an unnecessary overreach as the rest of the world makes its decisions in weeks as Covid19 cases continue to drop precipitously in many countries.
The decision is also unreasonable in the light of Italy, one of the worlds hardest hit countries, that is opening the country for all international travel on June 3.
At least a gradual reopening of international travel, for example looking at ‘bubble tourism’ – bilateral agreements – such as the one being pioneered between Spain’s Mallorca and Germany could be considered and planting the seed of confidence of long-haul travelers who are in the process of making longer-term travel plans now.
The industry has, with varying degrees of success, convinced travelers to postpone, rather than cancel their booked travels. These travelers can and will now choose from any destination in the world when they re-book. For that choice to fall on Thailand two things need to converge: confidence and accessibility.
With its reputation of the excellent handling of the crisis compared to other countries, Thailand is still in a primary position to scoop up those travelers for this year – even as early as the third quarter.
CAAT’s blanket ban decision risks giving this first mover advantage to other tourism destinations, protracting the country’s recovery. We should not forget Thailand is now vying for travelers with all destinations in the world.