Published on : Thursday, April 8, 2021
The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is calling for urgent action from all Thai travel and tourism industry stakeholders from both the public and private sectors to address the COVID-19 impacts on the local tourism supply chain.
Between December 2020 and March 2021, PATA, in partnership with focusright, a Swiss consultancy that works with companies to embed responsible business practices throughout their business and supply chains, and with the support of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs Switzerland, conducted research on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on informal workers in the Thai tourism supply chain. The research identified urgent and necessary actions needed to support workers in the Thai informal supply chain until international tourism restarts.
Dr. Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA, said, “The impacts of COVID-19 on tourism worldwide have been extensively deliberated over the past year. The question is not if tourism will survive, but what will it look like post COVID-19. There remains many unanswered questions with most pundits focused on airlines, hospitality, travel agencies, and tour operators. These deliberations therefore miss the crucial element of tourism everywhere – the informal tourism workers. Informal workers include street food sellers, souvenir sellers, drivers, freelance tour guides, activity providers, artists and artisans to name just a few.”
“The informal workers provide the local experiences that create memorable tourism. Yet, such professions are repeatedly ignored when discussing the tourism value chain, even though they make up a majority of tourism employment and provide entrepreneurial opportunities to women, youth and the elderly. This vital sector lacks voice and is excluded from industry discussions,” he added.
The research sought feedback from informal tourism workers in Thailand, with a total of 72 interviews conducted by COVID-19 impacted tour guides in December 2020. These guides were selected due to their extensive on-the-ground knowledge of the three leading destinations in Thailand – Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Tour guides are the bridge between visitors and the informal sector. The interviews provided an understanding of the current living conditions of the 72 interviewees. They were asked about their work and financial situation, survival strategies, what kind of support they require, and their hopes for the near future.
Unsurprisingly, the results revealed that 94% of informal workers interviewed have experienced employment impacts due to the lack of international visitors. As a result, 86% have experienced financial hardship leading to negative effects on mental health and quality of life. Many interviewees report feeling depressed from lack of prospects for the future.
The research confirms the importance of international visitors for informal workers to have a successful quality of life, and why 89% want the country to be reopened and are ready to restart their business activities and welcome back international tourists.
Sibylle Baumgartner, Co-founding Director of focusright, highlighted the urgency of the situation: “Indeed, before preparing for post-Covid, it is crucial to support them (informal workers) during Covid, i.e., from now (April 2021) until next year. We assume that meaningful international tourism in Thailand will only start to return around the Q2 of 2022 (or even later). Additionally, we also assume that the Thai vaccination programme will not be finished until next year. Therefore, it reinforces the crucial need for support for the tourism supply chain now.”
To complete the research and confirm its findings, an industry roundtable was held on March 23, 2021, and involved all relevant stakeholders including tour guides, destination management companies (DMCs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), European tour operators, The Embassy of Switzerland in Thailand, and Thai community development organisations.
The roundtable participants strongly concluded that Thai tourism can only rebound strongly through a combination of actions and strategies, which includes multisector engagement, a programme for the retention of workers, the organisation of various types of training workshops, the financial support for DMCs and NGOs, and social security benefits for the informal tourism sector.