Few people are as aware of the devastation the novel coronavirus has inflicted on international travel as Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, a deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Tourism accounts for 12 per cent of his country’s GDP (up to 20 per cent when ancillary services are included) and provides jobs for almost one in 10 Thais, according to the International Labour Organisation.
Chinese accounted for more than one in four of the tourists who visited Thailand last year and their importance has only been magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Given that long-haul travel is not expected to rebound quickly, Thailand’s tourism strategy is now focused squarely on the short-haul travellers who are most likely to return first: visitors from China.
To ease concerns over the coronavirus, hotels have embraced new protocols, from food safety to physical distancing, and want people to know it.
Beyond addressing safety concerns, businesses are also developing new activities to appeal to experienced travellers. Expique, known for its nighttime excursions in open-air tuk-tuks, is gearing up to cater to individual travellers and smaller groups craving personalised experiences. China is “a bigger opportunity than ever”, said founder Simon Philipp.
The Peninsula has also turned to platforms like Fliggy, where individual brands can sell products and packages, then receive payment directly through the site’s integrated Alipay system. Both companies are owned by Alibaba, which also owns the South China Morning Post.
China’s digitally connected population used their time online to “gain a lot of information about destinations they want to travel to, local foods they want to taste, all saved in their to-do list in their phone”.
Despite these great efforts to tempt tourists back, it is as yet uncertain when exactly travel to Thailand will be viable again.
Time will tell if the combination of an industry eager to do business and a customer base of travel-starved consumers will be enough to make that dream come true.
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