Thailand: New Covid travel fears

Tourism operators are closely monitoring Covid flare-ups in many countries as the situation may interrupt travel sentiment during the upcoming high season.

Asian countries are facing a surge in several Covid-19 sub-variants, including the new XBC variant in the Philippines and the XBB variant in Singapore, though the latter has recently slowed its spread. Most infections in Thailand are from the Omicron BA.5 variant.

One reason for the concern is the cooler season is approaching, which is expected to allow the virus to spread easier.

Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said tourism operators might not have to adjust their plans much as long as travel regulations remain constant, without any restrictions as seen the past few months.

However, they need to remain cautious and follow updates about the virus situation on a regular basis, said Mr Sisdivachr.

He said the key concern is inbound tourists, particularly from countries that have yet to fully recover from the pandemic’s impact and might refrain from taking overseas trips because of the resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

“The tourist markets that travel today are mostly people with strong financial status and who are unfazed by the downturn,” said Mr Sisdivachr.

Japan and South Korea — two essential markets for Thai tourism — have both recorded a sharp increase in infections this month. Japan announced an eighth wave of the pandemic with more than 100,000 cases per day over two months, while South Korea saw daily infections reach 70,000 last week.

He said this might discourage Japanese from taking outbound trips as most of them are still worried about the viral situation.

“Japanese and Korean tourists still visit Thailand, but not at the rate recorded before the pandemic,” said Mr Sisdivachr.

For the Chinese market, he said Thailand should wait for the results of the “Two Sessions” meeting in March as this annual political gathering will provide a clearer sign of potential travel relaxation.

“China’s government will not encourage overseas travel at this time, while most tour agents in the mainland haven’t resumed operation. Some business travellers are visiting Thailand now,” said Mr Sisdivachr.

Yuthasak Supasorn, the Tourism Authority of Thailand governor, said the nation is averaging 60,000 foreign arrivals daily.