Thai tourism jobs are less attractive to some locals, but reopening could boost recovery, SE Asia News & Top Stories

BANGKOK – Thailand’s tourism sector is on the mend, with plans to allow non-quarantine travel for more vaccinated tourists from November.

But while many see the news as a light at the end of the tunnel for the battered sector, analysts expect a long road to reviving tourism. And for some, the once robust industry, nicknamed “Teflon Thailand”, has lost its vigor.

“I can’t imagine going back to work in tourism. Imagine working in an unstable industry and so sensitive to the next wave of Covid-19 or a new variant,” said Soranan Natejan, 28, former head of the customer relationship at a travel agency.

He left the agency in early 2020 after four years and quickly found a job as a sales manager at a software solutions company, where he is paid twice his previous salary.

“I don’t think the industry will be the same again,” Soranan said, adding that his initial perceptions of the tourism industry as a lucrative and secure career path have been shattered.

The extended travel restrictions have pushed many like Mr Soranan to quit the tourism industry, which hired more than seven million people before Covid-19 hit.

The Tourism Council of Thailand estimates that more than two million tourism workers have lost their jobs, while 36% of tourism businesses have closed temporarily and 4% permanently.

Most of the companies still in operation have also cut their workforce in half, Thai Travel Agents Association public relations manager Pilomrat Isvarphornchai told The Straits Times.

“Much of the workforce has left the market and a lot is being done now to recruit them again,” she said.

Travel agency owner Tanawut Chumnankhao, 36, has suspended his Phuket-based business for almost two years. And even when a pilot program in July saw the island reopen to vaccinated travelers, it chose to remain closed.

“I didn’t think small businesses like mine would benefit because big hotels and corporations are the ones with the manpower and the resources,” he said.

There is also no rush to reopen on November 1, when Thailand plans to allow more vaccinated visitors from selected countries to enter without undergoing quarantine.

“I want to observe the situation first and maybe open a few months after,” said Tanawut, who is currently trying to rehire some of his former employees.

Mr. Soranan Natejan does not see himself returning to the tourism industry and is satisfied with his new position as a sales manager at a software company. PHOTO: SORANAN NATEJAN

Analysts say while the industry may not be attractive to Thai job seekers right now, that will change if and when tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels.

According to Pilomrat: “There is fear that the industry will lose its appeal, but Thailand is a destination that has a lot to offer. We just need to build the resilience of the sector.”

She believes that the expected slow recovery of the industry will allow a gradual return of the workforce over the next few years.

Maybank analyst Kim Eng Yuwanee Prommaporn believes that a number of those who have left remain unemployed mainly because their skills are not suited to other industries.

The pandemic has also highlighted Thailand’s heavy reliance on international tourism, and industry experts hope more efforts will be made to diversify its target audience and markets.

“The structure of Thai tourism has leaned towards the international market for too long, and this has proven difficult to change,” Thailand Tourism Authority Governor Yuthasak Supasorn told the Bangkok Post in May.

Dr Kirida Bhaopichitr, Director of Business Intelligence at the Thailand Development Research Institute, said: “I don’t think the face of Thai tourism will change drastically, but the offers will adapt, for example, to have more tourism. with high added value. “

According to Ms Pilomrat, this could mean smaller or private tour groups instead of large tours, and a focus on luxury experiences that will attract tourists with higher purchasing power.

She said there are plans to create more tourist destinations out of lesser-known secondary towns – such as Buriram, the hometown of Blackpink K-pop star Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban – and target the local market. domestic travel.

While industry players are generally optimistic about the plan to open borders, some wonder how successful the country will be in attracting foreign tourists.

In 2019, Thailand welcomed more than 39 million foreign tourists and the sector brought in nearly a fifth of the country’s revenue.

Various analysts predict around 300,000 foreign arrivals to Thailand this year, and say it will take at least three years to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Higher travel costs – due to mandatory Covid-19 testing, protocols and documentation – as well as quarantine requirements for some travelers upon returning to their home countries could be a deterrent, Ms Pilomrat said.

Thailand plans to allow more vaccinated visitors from selected countries to enter without undergoing quarantine. PHOTO: AFP

She also noted that Thailand’s increased vaccination rate could help her negotiate possible routes of traffic.

While the capital Bangkok has fully vaccinated over 65% of its population, only around 35% nationwide have received both vaccines.

Other provinces slated to reopen include Chiang Mai, where around 60% have been vaccinated. And despite a recent Covid-19 outbreak in a large local market that has infected more than 470 people, provincial governor Prajon Pratsakul has said Chiang Mai will be ready for reopening in November.

Solahutdin Mahatchakun, 29, who was fired from his post in the reservations department of a travel agency in June last year, wants to return to the tourism industry within one to two years.

“I still enjoy the hospitality industry, and it offers a number of benefits, including discounts on travel, free hotel stays and meeting people from all over the world,” said Solahutdin, who has studied hospitality at university.

Mr. Solahutdin Mahatchakun is looking forward to returning to the tourism industry within one to two years. PHOTO: SOLAHUTDIN MAHATCHAKUN

He now works as a customer service agent in a telecommunications company.

While his current salary is a bit higher, Mr Solahutdin said: “It is boring, but I have no choice because I am already lucky to have a job.”

And while the tourism industry may remain volatile for now, as consumer behavior and global travel regulations continue to evolve, Maybank analyst Kim Eng Yuwanee Prommaporn is optimistic.

“The Thais are known for their hospitality and this is a key asset … In the long term, the country should still be able to remain attractive,” she said.

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