New Covid travel fears

Viral flare-ups are hurting peak-season tourism

The arrivals hall at Suvarnabhumi Airport is busy as passengers queue for immigration procedures on Nov. 10, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Np Bow Facebook)

Tour operators are closely monitoring Covid flare-ups in many countries as the situation could suspend travel sentiment during the upcoming peak season.

Asian countries are facing an increase in several sub-variants of Covid-19, including the new XBC variant in the Philippines and the XBB variant in Singapore, although the latter has recently slowed its spread. Most infections in Thailand come from the Omicron BA.5 variant.

One reason for the concern is that the cooler season is approaching, which is expected to make it easier for the virus to spread.

Sisdivahr Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said tour operators may not have to adjust their plans much as long as travel regulations remain constant, without any restrictions as we have seen in recent months.

However, they should remain cautious and monitor regular updates on the virus situation, Sisdivachr said.

He said the main concern is inbound tourists, particularly from countries that have not yet fully recovered from the impact of the pandemic and may be refraining from overseas travel due to the resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

“The tourist markets traveling today tend to be people in strong financial standing who are unimpressed by the recession,” said Sisdivachr.

Japan and South Korea – two essential markets for Thai tourism – both recorded sharp increases in infections this month. Japan announced an eighth wave of the pandemic with more than 100,000 cases a day for two months, while South Korea saw 70,000 daily infections last week.

He said this could discourage Japanese people from making outbound trips as most of them are still concerned about the viral situation.

“Japanese and Korean tourists are still visiting Thailand, but not at the pre-pandemic pace,” Sisdivahr said.

For the Chinese market, he said Thailand should wait for the results of the “Two Sessions” meeting in March as this annual political gathering will be a clearer sign of possible travel relaxation.

“The Chinese government will not encourage travel abroad at this time, while most mainland travel agents have not resumed operations. Some business travelers are now visiting Thailand,” said Sisdivachr.

Yuthasak Supasorn, Thailand’s governor, said the country receives an average of 60,000 foreign arrivals per day.

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