Asia Minute: Thailand’s Tourism Trials

May 12, 2020

One of the biggest western tourist attractions in Asia is open for business this week. Shanghai Disneyland limited visitors to a third of its capacity on Monday, and staggered entry times. But a return of international tourism to the region will require much more than facemasks and social distancing. And that includes a favorite destination for Chinese travelers: Thailand.

New cases of the coronavirus reported in Thailand have been in the single digits almost every day for the past three weeks. While critics say there still hasn’t been enough testing, some restrictions have been lifted – next week shopping malls and department stores are scheduled to re-open.

An emergency decree remains in place through the end of the month — including a nightly curfew and domestic travel restrictions.

There’s also a ban on incoming international flights in effect since last month. The Tourism Authority of Thailand said Monday the number of foreign visitors this year is likely to drop to its lowest level in 14 years. The latest estimate is about 15 million — down from last year’s record of nearly 40 million.

Reuters quoted the authority’s governor as saying the best case scenario would be a return of foreign visitors in October.

Apart from the needed testing and tracing capacity, certain other scenarios are being discussed — including a sort of high-end quarantine. That concept would use certain tourist resorts as quarantine zones – restricting visitors to the grounds of the resort or even to small islands.  

The likely first target for Thailand’s hospitality industry is its biggest single market: China — which last year was the source of more than a quarter of all foreign visitors to the country.