Wall Street Times

Thailand tourism sector reopens

Image Source: The Time

Thailand says that after coronavirus restrictions were lifted last year, the number of tourists went up, but it was still a long way below what it was before the pandemic.

South East Asia had 11.81 million tourists in 2022, compared to only 400,000 the year before.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand also thinks that visitors will double to 25 million this year.

But those numbers still need to be much higher than the 39.8 million tourists who visited Thailand in 2019.

Visitors from outside the country will have to pay 300 baht ($9.20 or £7.40) starting in early June.

By 2027, Thailand wants to have 80 million tourists visit every year.

In 2019, more than 10% of the country’s gross domestic product came from tourism (GDP). But in 2021, it was only 1%. GDP is an important measure of how well or badly an economy is doing. All economic activity is measured by it.

The Thai government wants to spend more than $150 billion on tourism by getting more than twice as many people to visit as before the pandemic.

In a Facebook post, the government’s Public Relations Department said, “Once this goal is reached, tourism could bring in 5tn baht for the country in 2027.”

The news release also said that Thailand plans to improve “tourism safety standards” to handle the growing number of tourists.

This month, the country said that visitors to Thailand would have to show proof that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19, but then quickly changed its mind.

Since China’s border controls are more relaxed than they were during the pandemic, more Chinese tourists are likely to visit Thailand. Most of South East Asia is like this.

China’s immigration office said in December that Chinese people who want to travel abroad could start applying for passports again on January 8.

With this announcement, the strict quarantine rules that had been in place for almost three years were no longer in effect. People started planning trips abroad because of this, and travel sites saw a rise in traffic.

Before the pandemic, most of the people who went to Thailand were from China. Nearly 11 million people came from China in 2019. At least 5 million Chinese visitors are expected to come to the country this year.

Tourism in Thailand changed after COVID

When Kwanmueang comes in for his annual checkup, you can’t help but be amazed by how big he is.

The 18-year-old bull elephant in Thailand is an impressive sight. It is almost three meters tall at the shoulder, weighs at least four tons, and has beautiful tusks that curve together almost to the point where they touch.

But he and the man who takes care of him, Sornsiri “Lek” Sapmak, are in trouble.

They used to make money by having Kwanmueang participate in ceremonies to make new monks or dress up as a war elephants for reenactments of old battles. When COVID was locked down, all of that stopped.

More than 3,000 elephants are used for tourism in Thailand, the only place where this happens. Thailand is different from other places with captive animals because almost all are privately owned. So, the end of tourism because of the pandemic has been terrible for the elephants and their owners, who no longer make enough money to care for them.

Even though tourism is starting to get better, this unique business is still a threat. Many foreign tourists are no longer going to elephant shows, which used to be a big part of tours because they are worried about how the animals are kept and trained. As a result, people are wondering if elephant tourism will ever be like it was before COVID.

Lek and Kwanmueang have returned to Lek’s village in Surin province, where he grew up. People here are known for being good at keeping elephants, training them, and capturing them in the past.

Lek is not alone. Hundreds of other elephants have come back to Surin from touristy places like Phuket and Chiang Mai. They made money by doing tricks for foreign tourists or giving them rides.

Walking through these villages is unsettling. Almost every house has an elephant chained up in the front yard or resting under a tree. You get used to seeing the big animals slowly walking down the road with their mahouts on their wide necks, and you learn to drive carefully around them.

Thailand is home to elephants, but there are now only about 3,000 to 4,000 wild elephants instead of about 100,000 a century ago. This is because many of them used to be caught and used in the logging business. When that stopped in the late 1980s to protect what was left of the country’s forests, they were used to entertain tourists instead.

In their first shows, they showed off their skills by using logs. But as Thailand’s tourism grew, these started to include rides and shows where animals did things like paint or play football. World Animal Protection (WAP), an animal rights group, says that Thailand made up to $770 million (£626 million) a year from elephants before COVID.

WAP is one of many groups that are trying to stop the use of elephants in shows. They say that it’s not natural and that it always has to be trained in cruel ways. Already, a lot of tourists want to see elephants in Thailand in a better way. As a result, some tour companies in Europe and North America will no longer take their customers to elephant camps where they can ride or bathe elephants.

Read Also: COVID cases touches over 900 million people in China

So, the ecotourism business has made a new niche to meet these needs.

Opinions expressed by The Wall Street Times contributors are their own.