Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

Thailand lures the rich as tourism revival hope fades

This photo taken on September 30, 2020 shows an empty pool at the luxury Vijitt Resort in Phuket. – A private infinity pool, gourmet meals… and round-the-clock surveillance from a “war room” — the first foreigners to arrive in Thailand will be ensconced in luxury conditions under some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP) / To go with ‘THAILAND-HEALTH-VIRUS-TOURISM’ by Thanaporn PROMYAMYAI and Sophie DEVILLER

With a third wave of Covid-19 undermining the likelihood of hordes of foreign tourists and investors returning to Thailand any time soon, there are government moves afoot to make the kingdom more appealing for long-term, high-net-worth visitors in the near future.

Tourism accounted for 18-20% of Thailand’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, when nearly 40 million foreign tourists visited the kingdom and generated around 2 trillion baht ($64.1 billion) in local revenues. But the foreign tourist money tree has stopped giving in the time of Covid.

Last year, Thailand’s GDP shrank 6.1%, with only 6.7 million tourist arrivals and 330 billion baht in revenues before a Covid lockdown and travel banned kicked off in late March 2020.

This year will be worse for the tourism industry, as the Thai government stumbles to roll out vaccines and contain a worst yet wave of Covid-19 that has resulted in record daily new infections and fast-rising fatalities.

Although exports have shown signs of recovery, the Finance Ministry now predicts the economy will grow just 2.3% in 2021, with tourism revenue expected to reach a mere 170 billion baht.

“You are not going to see 40 million tourists back any time soon, so we need to make some changes there,” said Chayotid Kridakon, 54, former head of JP Morgan Securities (Thailand) and current advisor to Thai Deputy Prime Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow, the government’s chief economic policy director.

In January, Chayotid quit the private sector to head a government task force set up by Supattanapong to facilitate foreign direct investment and promote foreign exchange earning sectors in Thailand’s post-Covid economy.

The team has since identified four sectors as key to Thailand’s future growth, namely automobiles including electric vehicles (EVs), smart electronics again with an emphasis on EVs, medical services and products, and tourism.

The first three sectors are already heavily promoted by other agencies such as the Board of Investment (BOI), but Chayotid sees room for fast-track improvement in promoting higher-end tourism, with a new package of incentives scheduled to be rolled out in June with roadshows thereafter.

“We need to be proactive here on how we are going to be promoting Thailand after Covid, rather than just a beautiful place for you to come and visit, offering good value for your money,” said Chayotid, in an exclusive interview with Asia Times.

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