Thailand Prepares To Welcome Back Tourists After Devastating Shutdown
Bangkok, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 27th Oct, 2021 ) :Hotels, street food carts and tuk-tuks are gearing up for the return of tourists to Bangkok as Thailand prepares to re-open on November 1 to fully vaccinated visitors after 18 months of Covid travel curbs.
The coronavirus pandemic sent visitor numbers plummeting from 40 million in 2019 to just 73,000 in the first eight months of 2021 -- leaving its tourism-reliant economy registering its worst performance in over two decades.
Authorities are desperate to revive the sector -- which accounts for a fifth of the economy -- despite Thailand still recording about 10,000 Covid infections a day and the vaccination rate lagging at about 40 percent.
The government is hopeful that a plan to phase out tough quarantine rules could lure visitors back to bars and beaches despite the prevalence of the virus.
The absence of visitors has left an unmistakable impact on Bangkok's Chinatown, with shuttered shops visible under the glare of neon lights and lines of empty tuk-tuks.
Samran, a driver for 25 years, saw his income drop by 90 percent and now earns just $3 a day.
"I want to stop but I am old, no one will hire me for anything else," the 58-year-old said.
The second stage of re-opening, planned for December 1, is to end a seven-month prohibition on booze in bars and restaurants -- a move industry figures say is vital to entice thirsty visitors looking to cut loose.
The five-star establishment sits on the banks of Bangkok's Chao Phraya River, and just 10 percent of its 400 rooms were occupied at the height of the Covid crisis.
Things are picking up now, with more than half of the rooms booked for New Year celebrations -- though 85 percent of these reservations are from Thais.
The prolonged shutdown has "devastated" the hotel sector, Thai Hotels Association president Marisa Sukosol Nunbhakdi said, adding that nearly half of the industry's employees were left jobless from closures and lay-offs.
"A fierce price war has been declared between hotels because supply will remain very abundant for a long time compared to demand," she said.
These challenges are dampening Marisa's expectations for the re-opening.
"If in the next few months we manage to fill the hotels to 25-30 percent capacity, that will be a success," Marisa said, but she does not anticipate a return to normal before 2024.