Tourism sector at the forefront of the vaccination line

Published on : Tuesday, April 6, 2021

In Thailand, the tourism sector has jumped to the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccination line, with Phuket, the country’s most popular resort island going for a mass immunization programme two months before the rest of the country.

The island of Phuket aims to deliver shots to at least 460,000 people – gearing up for July 1, when vaccinated overseas visitors will no longer be required to quarantine.

Phuket also has its own international airport and tourists would be able to travel around the island without restraint without posing any virus threat to the rest of Thailand’s population.

“If we can build immunity for 70-80% of the population on the island, we can receive foreign tourists who have been vaccinated without the need for quarantine,” said Phuket’s Vice Governor Piyapong Choowong.

Medical workers, members of the cabinet and the elderly were the first to be vaccinated. Thailand’s decision to prioritize Phuket compared to other parts of the country exhibits the pivotal role of tourism for the economy.

Foreign tourist spending accounted for 11-12% of GDP before the pandemic. However, the sector was devastated by the virus with 1.45 million job losses since last year.

Only 6.7 million foreign tourists visited Thailand in 2020, spending around $11 billion, compared to almost 40 million in 2019, with spending of $61 billion.

The Thai government aims to see around 100,000 tourists visit Phuket in the third quarter of 2021. The country hopes that with the progress of vaccinations worldwide, it will witness a spike in demand in the fourth quarter and around 6.5 million visitors countrywide will spend 350 billion baht ($11 billion) by the end of the year.

Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said, “It’s a challenge. But that will contribute to GDP to some extent. We don’t expect tourists will come in like a broken dam but we hope to have quality visitors with high spending.”

Yuthasak said that visitors from Europe, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are expected to come back first.

Thailand has been successful in limiting corona virus infections due to strict 14-day quarantine for overseas visitors, but it has also proved to be a great hurdle for many tourists.

Programmes for luring long-term tourists who test negative for the corona virus have crumbled, even with creative measures like quarantine at golf resorts.

Analysts believe that Thailand could see a quick rebound in tourism, citing the Maldives which has seen hotel occupancy rates come back to 70-80% in spite of virus cases.

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