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Omicron Variant Casts a Huge Shadow Over Tourism for 2022

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Thailand has suffered another blow to its tourism because of an outbreak of a highly transmissible strain of Omicron in many countries. In response, the government suspended its Thailand Pass program.

This allows prospective visitors to register for their planned visit to the kingdom through the Test & Go program and the sandbox tourism promotion programs. This is the exception of one in Phuket.

Although the most recent virus variant Omicron appears to be less virulent than the one from last year, most tourism businesses believe the tourism situation in 2022 will not be worse than last year, because it is less likely to spread rapidly. A high proportion of the country’s citizens have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Also, its level of experience in dealing with the pandemic in the past few years is impressive.

There has been frustration among tourism operators in the affected provinces due to the suspension of the tourist registration system, except for that in Phuket.

Hua Hin Tourism

According to Krot Rochanasathian, president of Hua Hin Recharge, the tourism reopening project of Prachuap Khiri Khan, Phuket can remain open for international tourists as well.

The new outbreak involving Omicron is unlikely to become as severe as it was in past waves of Covid-19, and Hua Hin is capable of handling the new spread of the virus.

British tourists who travelled from Phuket to Hua Hin recently were found to have Omicron due to the effective local disease control measures, he said, adding that Hua Hin requires foreign visitors to undergo an RT-PCR Covid-19 test twice.

In Hua Hin, the average bed occupancy rate is 30%, meaning the hospital is prepared to handle a surge in Covid-19 patients should a new outbreak occur, he said.

Nevertheless, the government’s decision on Dec 22 to suspend registration for the Thailand Pass has negatively affected many tourists planning to visit Hua Hin, he said.

Several booked hotels in January, and many planned to stay for some time. Others could work from anywhere in the world, but they chose to spend time in Hua Hin, he said.

“These are high-quality tourists who fly in private jets and spend at least ten days in Thailand,” he said.

He said Hua Hin and Cha-am in Phetchaburi province are tourist areas with a great deal of potential to attract high-quality, long-stay tourists with high spending power, especially from Scandinavia.

Foreign Tourist in Pattaya

While adjusting to the global tourism situation, Pattaya City will continue to focus more on attracting Thai tourists to visit.

Rattanachai Sutthidechachai, vice-president of Pattaya’s business and tourism association, said: “We don’t expect much from foreign visitors because there are still a lot of limitations.”

Approximately 4,000 foreigners have visited Pattaya since Nov 1, and only 20% have been “real” tourists, while the rest are foreigners with businesses or families here, he said.

Pattaya’s tourism will be seriously affected if Omicron results in a new lockdown, he said. “This will severely harm our Thai visitors.”

Chon Buri has organized up to 12 tourism promotion events each week since the country reopened in November, he said, which has boosted the city’s tourism-based economy.

I believe that the Covid-19 pandemic will come to an end in 2022, even though the virus won’t disappear from the world,” Mr Rattanachai said. In addition to the EEC scheme, Chon Buri will host trade expos, business seminars, and trade and investment events, he said.

Phuket Tourism

The resort island of Phuket, meanwhile, has a somewhat different tourism situation, since international visitors are still allowed through the Phuket Sandbox. A partial tourism reopening pilot program was first implemented by the province last year.

Although the Thailand Pass tourist registration system has been suspended, Phuket is still planning to welcome more than 100,000 visitors who have already registered to enter Thailand through the Phuket Sandbox, according to Thanusak Pheungdet, chairman of Phuket’s chamber of commerce.

Between July and October, 60,000 foreign visitors came to Phuket under the sandbox programme, and 40,000 more arrived in November, he said. Phuket must be thanked for the government’s trust,” he said.

In December, Phuket welcomed about 300,000 visitors, including Thais and foreigners entering Thailand via Bangkok and continuing on to the province, said Bhummikitti Raktaengam, president of Phuket’s tourism business association.

A slowdown in bookings would be a warning sign, he said, if the Omicron variant spreads rapidly and results in a worse-than-expected global Covid-19 situation. According to him, tourists are still coming to Phuket despite no significant cancellations of bookings.

Chiang Mai Tourism

Although for a different reason, the cancellation of the Covid-19 Test & Go scheme has not affected Chiang Mai either.

According to Ratthaphon Naradison, deputy provincial governor, most tourists visiting this spot were Thais. Most of the tourists visiting Chiang Mai recently were Thais travelling by air, according to Phanlaphon Sae-Chiu, president of the tourism industry council of Chiang Mai.

In Chiang Mai, there are about 14,000 flights a day with more than 150 passengers, he said. As long as this pace continues for two months, its tourism sector will begin to recover, he said, and local business operators should be able to stay afloat.

He said tourism will bring 3 billion baht in income to the province during the New Year festival alone. The reopening of the country has contributed to increased tourism in Chiang Mai, but only by less than 5%, according to La-iat Bungsithong, president of the Upper North’s hotel association.

In November and December, most tourists in Chiang Mai were Thai. During this year’s first and second quarters, the number of foreign visitors is expected to increase. According to him, hotels expect a rise of 50-60% in the number of guests during the last two months of 2021 as a result of government tourism and spending promotion campaigns.

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