Visitors shop during the re-opening of Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok.
The number of foreign tourists in Thailand may plunge by almost two-thirds to 14 million this year, the lowest level in 14 years, as the coronavirus pandemic hits global travel, estimates from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) showed on Monday.
The TAT now predicts only 14 million to 16 million foreign visitors this year, sharply down from 33.8 million projected in March. Last year's foreign arrivals were a record 39.8 million.
Tourism is crucial to Thailand as spending from foreign tourists amounted to 1.93 trillion baht ($59.98 billion), or 11% of GDP last year.
The tourism authority is hoping foreign visitors will return to Thailand in October, the country's high tourist season, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told a section of the media.
"Our best case scenario is that domestic tourism will start to improve in June or July, while foreign visitors should come in around October," he said.
"Forward bookings are showing a good trend, with smaller drops. But that will also depend on the outbreak situation and travel restrictions," he added.
The TAT is preparing a rehabilitation plan for the sector, which should be completed by early June, Yuthasak said.
Thailand has reported 3,015 cases and 56 deaths since the outbreak began in the country in January, with recent daily new infections slowing to single digits.
The country has extended a ban on incoming passenger flights, imposed on April 4, until the end of May to try to curb the pandemic, which has infected more than 4 million people globally.
In the January-March period, foreign tourist numbers in Thailand slumped 38% to 6.69 million, with the number of Chinese visitors, Thailand's biggest source of tourists, plunging 60% to 1.25 million.
Thais took in a movie and enjoyed foot massages in a welcome return on Monday to some pampering and popular pastimes as coronavirus restrictions further eased and new infection numbers remained low.
Tourism stakeholders in Thailand, host to half a million Middle East and North Africa citizens and 130,158 Emiratis in 2019, have begun gearing up for the arrival/return of foreign visitors even as the reopening of the premiere Suvarnabhumi Airport and other international gateways across the Southeast Asian kingdom, has yet to be calendared.
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