Following the third stage of relaxing the lockdown, inter-provincial travel has been allowed and some tourist destinations have come back to life as people are allowed to leave home to enjoy leisure activities.
For several months, the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy and tourism industry. All holiday plans, hotel bookings and flight schedules were scrapped, while many countries closed their borders to stop virus transmissions.
In Thailand, the number of inbound travellers dropped from last year by 42.78% in February and 76.41% in March, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MOTS). Contributing to the decline were the top 15 countries for inbound travellers, with China dropping the most by 59.4%, Hong Kong 49.8%, South Korea 44.2%, Malaysia 38.3%, Singapore 37%, India 33.6%, Taiwan 32.5%, Indonesia 29.3%, Japan 28%, Vietnam 26.5%, Myanmar 26.3% UAE 20.1%, Cambodia 23%, Qatar 5.0% and Russia 0.6%. The data was gathered by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand during the first quarter of 2020.
With lockdown expected to be lifted next month, it's time to take a look at what's coming up for post-Covid-19 travel. Museums, learning centres, shopping malls, resorts, restaurants and fitness centres have resumed operations, while beaches remain the popular place for family outings, offering a great chance to boost domestic tourism. Now, Kanchanaburi, Chanthaburi, Chon Buri, Trang, Trat, Phatthalung, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phetchaburi, Ranong and Phuket have eased the travel restrictions, with visitors no longer required to self-quarantine.
The travel website Expedia, studied over 5,000 searches on its website in April and found that Thai travellers were focusing on domestic travel destinations to satisfy their wanderlust.
The top 10 destinations searched for check-in between October and December included Phuket (12.82%), Bangkok (11.54%), Chiang Mai (4.88%), Pattaya (4.84%), Tokyo (4.42%), Krabi (3.98%), Koh Samui (3.5%), Osaka (2.88%), Trat (2.8%) and Seoul (2.58%). This reflects Thai travellers' desire to spend holidays domestically rather than abroad as a pandemic precaution.
Veteran travel blogger Ong Mitprakrobchoke, who runs the ChangTrixGet Facebook page with more than 1.2 million followers, says this is the golden time for Thai travellers to enjoy special deals from five-star hotel chains. Many cities within driving distance from Bangkok like Hua Hin, Khao Yai, Khao Kho, Kanchanaburi and Pattaya offer the best options for day or weekend trips.
Bang Saen beach in Chon Buri. Photo © Teeneechonburi Facebook Page
"Thais will shift their holiday plans to domestic travel this year," Ong predicted. "Several hotels are offering special promotions to attract local vacationers after the authorities loosened the lockdown and travel restrictions.
"A group of well-heeled travellers will stay in a luxurious resort to ensure privacy and standard safety measures. Based on the new normal, people will start from short trips before expanding to longer vacations in Phuket or Chiang Mai."
To avoid crowds, pitching a tent at national parks could be a worthwhile option. Travellers may drive to find hidden attractions that are popular with locals but largely unknown to outsiders. To spur domestic tourism and the local economy, the Finance Ministry is launching a new campaign that will give 3,000 baht vouchers to 4 million citizens and free trips to 1.2 million medical personnel on a first-come-first-served basis.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has unfavourably impacted the airline industry. With social distancing conditions, airlines can carry a smaller number of passengers, resulting in the ticket prices being more expensive.
"With high travelling expenses, some resort towns like Samui are facing a crucial time when groups of foreign tourists have disappeared. Flying is the easiest way to reach this island, so couples may have to pay more than 13,000 baht for a two-day, one-night trip. It's not worth it," Ong said.
"People won't take long-haul flights. If they travel abroad, it may be a business trip rather than a vacation. So, some leading airlines are now luring travellers with more flexible conditions. For example, Qatar Airlines allows customers to alter a travel date and destination within 8,000 kilometres of the original one free of charge or turn a ticket into a travel voucher valid for two years. These are the best deals I've ever seen."
A passenger sits in socially-distanced seats in a near-empty Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Wednesday. It is expected that most overseas trips this year will be business-related rather than vacations. Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP
Ong said this isn't the end of the cheap flight era. Pricing remains key to airline marketing strategies. People won't fly if tickets are too expensive, while tour agencies have been frozen out due to strict travel restrictions becoming barriers to provide smooth-as-silk services for customers, who require convenience.
Family travel blogger Somboon Panichayanon, the founder of the 9JourneyThailand.com page on Facebook with more than 32,000 followers, says 80% of families have chosen to design fun activities at home to protect their children from the coronavirus, while young couples still crave travelling away from home. For him, spending his weekend in a private pool villa is a good solution to ease stress and keep away from crowds.
"This month people will unwind by arranging short trips to Pattaya or Hua Hin, while several hotels have cleaned up to resume operations. Focusing on standard safety measures, hi-end resorts are becoming a popular choice for families and young couples. For example, the Renaissance Pattaya Resort & Spa and X2 River Kwai Resort are fully booked during the weekend despite the curfew and the strict travel restrictions. People just want a change of atmosphere, so they spend most of their time in a resort rather than browsing tourist attractions," Somboon said.
"Japan is still on the top of the holiday destination list for Thais, but this time domestic travel is the best. We must undergo a 14-day, self-quarantine on our return -- it's not worth it. We may have to live in fear until we can produce a vaccine for Covid-19. I hope there won't be a second virus outbreak in Thailand so that people can relax."
Travel blogger Natira Wongpaitoon, founder of the Go Graph page on Facebook with 250,000 followers, is keeping her eyes on gastronomy tourism -- food reviews scored highly during the Covid-19 crisis.
With the famous Japanese % Arabica cafe recently opening its first branch in Thailand, cafe hoppers can still enjoy aromatic drinks and are in a selfie-taking frenzy. The beautifully decorated resorts, private residences on Airbnb and homestay programmes will gain popularity during the rainy season.
"With more expensive flights, travellers will take road trips instead and will seek a private place. Some will explore the natural attractions such as Hua Hin, Ratchaburi and Pattaya, which are the best places for day trips. People just want a change of atmosphere, so driving to eat fresh seafood can satisfy them," Natira said.
"From now on, we will spend more time planning an overseas trip by checking the entry ban on foreigners and considering the safety and disease control measures in each country. We also have to check if there's discrimination against Asians linked to the pandemic. The accommodation will be a major factor in choosing the destination rather than tourist attractions."