Thailand’s tourism recovery four years away

Company contributor TTR Weekly

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In Thailand, the tourism sector supported almost 20% of the national GDP last year, but the recovery could take four years to reach 2019 levels.

In the Oxford Economics’ central scenario, we do not see tourism spending recovering to 2019 levels until 2024. That means a THB4.8 trillion loss of visitor spending in Thailand’s economy compared with our pre-pandemic outlook.

For tourism providers in Thailand and across APAC, this is a devastating blow. Our modelling identifies 40 million “jobs at risk” in the wider APAC tourism sector. For workers and business owners in this sector, a return of tourism expenditure could not come soon enough. What is increasingly clear is that the rebuilding of the travel and tourism sector will be essential for the wider economic recovery of the region.

Airbnb’s role in Thailand, as part of the wider short-term rental sector, provides a useful example of how tourism spending manifests itself broadly around the economy. We recently worked with Airbnb to estimate its total economic impact across 13 APAC countries in the five years preceding the coronavirus travel disruption. This included detailed modelling of the direct economic impacts of the spending Airbnb facilitates and the indirect economic impacts it creates through supply chain effects and wage expenditure.

A little more than one-third of Airbnb’s total economic footprint in Thailand (worth around THB44 billion in 2019) can be attributed to this “direct impact” – that’s the value-added by businesses and workers in the first line of tourism activity: the bars and restaurants, retailers, and taxi drivers. The remainder is generated by the “indirect” value-added along the supply chains of these tourism providers and from the wage expenditure of those workers earning incomes from it. And these broader impacts fall widely across sectors and are spread widely across states and regions.

In Thailand, only one-quarter of Airbnb’s economic impact falls in Bangkok (Airbnb’s biggest local market in APAC). The lion’s share is distributed around second-tier and smaller tourism destinations, including those with no tourism footfall to speak of at all.

Similarly, the decline in tourism has not only been felt by the unfortunate staff and operators of those frontline tourism providers, but also in the transport, retail, manufacturing, and agricultural jobs that service this tourism demand indirectly. As our study for Airbnb highlights, there are more than 925,000 workers in APAC whose employment was supported by Airbnb-related tourism alone in 2019. More than half of these workers benefited through indirect impacts. They might not make the connection themselves, but their employment and prosperity are tied in part to the recovery and trajectory of the tourism sector.

So, how can recovery in travel and tourism be accelerated? When producing our forecasts, we tend to closely observe three core obstacles: physical travel restrictions, depressed economic conditions, and lasting impact the coronavirus will leave on traveller confidence. It is increasingly clear that the early revival of short-haul and domestic travel along safe and trusted, low-risk travel corridors will be crucial to recovery before a broader normalisation of tourism flows can be established in the years to come.

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