As Phuket and other Thai tourist destinations prepare for a slight bump in business from the countdown to 2021, a new virus outbreak among seafood factory workers near Bangkok couldn’t come at a worse time.
Thailand discovered a record cluster of infections in Samut Sakhon province last week, prompting a 14-day lockdown of the industrial district. The government is mulling whether curbs need to be expanded to other locales.
Another nationwide lockdown or restrictions on domestic travel could be the “nail in the coffin” for many tourism-related companies, according to Phuket Hotel Association President Anthony Lark.
“Everyone’s losing money and just trying to break even,” Lark said by phone Monday. “If the government can’t control the virus, and any domestic air travel or inter-provincial travel restrictions are introduced, then you will absolutely see hotel, restaurant and boat owners mothball their businesses.”
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said on Monday that he will take about a week to assess whether more stringent curbs are needed.
News of a widespread outbreak in a seafood market, which took Thailand’s total infections to 5,289 on Monday, came just a day after the government announced plans to ease some restrictions on tourists from 56 countries, including the U.S., Japan and Singapore.
Thailand is betting on a revival in tourism to help it exit a recession, though the central bank forecasts it may take two years for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to return to pre-pandemic growth levels. Foreign tourist arrivals generated more than $60 billion in revenue from about 40 million visitors in 2019.
While the international market has been virtually dormant for months, domestic travelers have kept many places afloat, including in Phuket, where businesses were counting on a bump during the year-end holidays.
Travelers from the Thai capital account for 99% of Phuket’s tourists since the nation closed its borders late March, according to Lark. Before the pandemic, foreign tourists comprised two-thirds of the island province’s visitors but contributed about 90% of Phuket’s tourism revenue.
“Bangkok weekend warriors have been propping up all supporting businesses,” Lark said, noting that some hotel occupancy rates have hit 80% at times. But new restrictions “would be the nail in the coffin for so many businesses who were already booked and waiting for tourists from Bangkok.”