Tourist boats in the lagoon of Koh Hong island in the Andaman Sea. AFP
Thailand expects to receive 1,200 foreign visitors in both November and December, after a slight easing of travel curbs aimed at generating some income until a ban on mass tourism is lifted, its tourism authority chief said on Friday.
The country is gradually opening up to a limited numbers of visitors during the coronavirus pandemic to give some support to a tourism-dependent economy that the government expects to shrink by 6% this year.
The new arrivals, however, would be a fraction of the number in 2019, a record year.
Thailand recorded 1,201 foreign visitors in October, all on special 90-day visas requiring a 14-day quarantine period, compared to 3.07 million arrivals last October.
"We rather hope this will signal the opening up of the country," Tourism Authority of Thailand governor, Yuthasak Supasorn, told Reuters.
Those tourists would each spend about 200,000-400,000 baht ($6,605-$13,210), he said.
Thailand's tight entry restrictions have helped keep its COVID-19 cases to under 4,000, but caused widespread economic damage and many job losses.
In January-October, foreign tourist numbers fell 79.5% to 6.69 million, with commercial flights to Thailand halted in April.
In 2019, a record 39.9 million visitors spent 1.91 trillion baht ($63 billion), or about 11.3% of gross domestic product.
Yuthasak said arrivals might be 8 million in 2021 as global travel may remain subdued until late in the year.
"But the situation is still very fluid," he said, and dependent on global infections and vaccine access.
One private tourism group expects up to 10 million foreign tourists next year and hopes Thailand will open up more and remove quarantine requirements.
"Our customers are ready to travel and agents are also ready but our country is not open," said Chairat Triratanajaraspon, president of The Tourism Council of Thailand.
Thailand has in the meantime offered incentives to boost domestic tourism and hopes to restart talks with China on a travel bubble.
Island nations have dodged the worst ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, but now face a stark choice between a risky reopening to tourists and economic collapse.
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.
With almost 23 million international visitors last year, the Thai capital outpaced both Paris and London, which were second and third with just over 19 million visitors.
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