Nightlife business owner says his customers are not happy with seeing masseuses with face masks on while other operators slam the nervousness of the government and the restrictions on trade which they want to see liberalised even further than things were in 2020 to give their businesses a badly needed shot in the arm after two years of losses and debt. This comes as the economic recovery is showing signs of slowing again in 2022 while the foreign tourism industry is making a slower than expected comeback.
The Thai cabinet, on Monday, blocked a proposal to remove the face mask mandate in respect of outdoor environments. The decision comes amid growing criticism from the country’s nightlife sector over the public health measures being imposed on businesses, at this time, including the need for staff to wear face masks and a midnight closing time. Thailand’s economic recovery, this year, is also beginning to stall with exports falling from March to April and the government’s budgetary position tightening as stimulus efforts and financial supports dry up. Many now fear that the reticence of the government may already be impeding a badly needed full foreign tourism recovery which is taking longer than expected to gain traction.
The Thai cabinet on Monday dealt another blow to efforts to regenerate the country’s foreign tourism industry as it put a halt to plans to do away with the outdoor wearing of face masks proposed in June at a recent meeting of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
The decision sees Thailand as an outlier as mask-wearing mandates have been rescinded worldwide even in neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia.
The wearing of masks is still mandated, however, in Vietnam, a fellow member of ASEAN and a one-party socialist republic ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Decision in line with policy announced earlier this month by Public Health Minister Anutin who said the face mask mandate must be retained after July 1st
The retention of face masks is known to be a sought after policy of Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul who earlier this month tasked his officials with finding a way of keeping them mandatory even after the virus is declared endemic after July 1st next.
On Monday, Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a spokesman for the prime minister made it clear that as a result of a meeting of the cabinet, there were now no plans to rescind the mandate in Thailand despite the recommendation from the CCSA.
The Minister Of Public Health, Mr Anutin, is also known to be concerned about the reopening of the nightlife trade in Thailand.
Nightlife reopening a non-event for many as venues were already open under a different guise for months
Thailand’s nightlife industry is set to open legally this week from June 1st across 31 provinces in Blue and Green zones including key tourist hotspots such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai.
Dr Apisamai Srisangson, a government spokesperson, last Thursday, warned operators that no promotional activities would be allowed and that venues, where infections are detected, would face closure for three to five days.
The latest reopening will make little difference as many venues had already reopened after classifying themselves as eateries to comply with earlier relaxations in the law, something that appears to have been generally accepted by authorities.
The industry is using the occasion to push for further opening hours and a full return to normal after the pandemic crisis has highlighted its strategic importance not only in attracting foreign tourists to Thailand but also in generating local income and employment.
Slow foreign tourism recovery as the government retained Thailand Pass app for foreigners after June
It comes as Thailand’s economic recovery in 2022 is, like last year, beginning to stall.
The government is being accused also of hurting the prospects of a full recovery of the vital foreign tourism sector, this year, as it hesitates in removing restrictions and barriers to the industry such as face masks while retaining the Thailand Pass system albeit in a new automated mode from June 1st.
This will mean that approvals through Thailand Pass will become immediate after foreign travellers submit the required documents including passport, insurance details and inoculation status or virus test result within 72 hours.
The government decided, in recent weeks, to retain the unpopular entry application for foreign tourists but, at the same time, abolished it for incoming Thai travellers.
Thailand Pass app retained for foreign tourists but Thai nationals are to be exempted after June 1st
Some industry sources are beginning to express disillusionment with the laggardly pace of reopening the country with Thailand falling behind many of its regional peers and international competitors in effecting a full recovery of its critically important foreign tourism engine which is key to powering the economy.
Projected arrivals for Thailand of 10 million in 2022 or 25% of 2019’s tally, lags behind world norms
At the best, the kingdom will see 10 million visitors in 2022 or 25% of its performance in 2019 according to most experts and economists, a figure far behind other countries across the world that have seen a return to pre-pandemic levels as pent up demand for air travel and foreign has reemerged in the western world.
Even in Southeast Asia, which is acknowledged as one of the places in the world where the recovery has been slower, Thailand lags behind countries such as Singapore and the Philippines.
Disturbing figures in March showed that airline bookings in Southeast Asia had reached 38% of pre-pandemic levels while industry data sources suggested that bookings for Singapore were 72% of 2019 levels with the Philippines at 65%.
On the other hand, it should be noted that the kingdom is targeting anywhere from 5 million to 15 million foreign tourists this year, with an expectation of 10 million.
Many trade experts only see the Philippines attaining 1.3 million visitors from a figure of 8 million seen in 2019.
Key limiting factor on Thailand, across all sectors, is China with lockdowns and ban on foreign travel
A key factor is the closure of the Chinese market as that country labours under a severe lockdown regime.
This week, Thailand reported a manufacturing index rise of 0.56% for April which was far short of a Reuters poll of economists and experts which had predicted a 1.6% rise compared to a 0.44% rise in March.
The reason for this is faltering demand worldwide, particularly in China where the Communist Party leadership has imposed draconian public health measures and a ban on foreign travel.
It was also impacted by resultant supply chain disruptions caused by the Russian Ukraine war.
Export growth slowed in April and the manufacturing index figure this week was well below expectations making a fast foreign tourism revival critical
One particular problem for the industry which is heavily dependent on electronics and car manufacturing, is a shortage of computer chips from China.
Export growth also slowed in April with a 9.9% growth rate compared to a low baseline in April 2021 compared to a 19.5% growth rate in March 2022.
Exports in absolute terms fell from $28.86 billion in March to $23.52 billion in April.
Exports and manufacturing account for up to 65% of Thai GDP while the country’s foreign tourism sector although, technically, only 12% of GDP, is estimated to be more than twice this due to its indirect impact on other sectors and its ability to funnel cash into Thailand’s massive casual economy.
By some accounts, it is responsible for 25% of GDP despite official efforts to wean the country off its economic dependence on this source of foreign income, which generates domestic consumption, by moving Thailand to a high tech high income economy, a plan which has yet to bear fruit on a critical scale.
The foreign tourism industry generated $60 billion for the kingdom in 2019 excluding indirect GDP knock-on activity within the economy in Thailand as a result of this inflow.
Nightlife trade critical of the government’s reopening measures and restrictions imposed on the industry
This week, Sanga Ruangwattanakul, the President of the Khao San Road Business Association was among a growing number of nightlife industry operators who have come out to criticise the government for failing to go further in liberalising the industry which is a critical component of the country’s foreign tourism industry.
In recent weeks, the industry had lobbied the Prime Minister’s Office to go further in extending opening hours and even made a submission calling for them to be expanded beyond normal after the pandemic on the basis that Thailand’s nightlife is one of the key attractions of foreign tourism hotspots, particularly for centres such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.
‘Currently we already open and serve alcohol until midnight, so the latest measure doesn’t help much. Why doesn’t the government go beyond that? The ban on alcohol sales from 2 pm to 5 pm isn’t helpful either,’ Mr Sanga told the media.
Calls for face mask mandate to be rescinded and an end to the emergency in Thailand to boost confidence
The industry representative also referred to the need to rescind the mandatory wearing of face masks as well as an end to the current emergency decree and the application of the Communicable Disease Act 2015.
In other words, at the very least, a full return to normal.
The nightlife operators claim that having to cease the sale of alcohol at midnight as well as different health measures imposed by the Ministry of Public Health are making it impossible to profitably operate their business concerns.
Thanupong Paensodsaicharoenkij is a nightlife boss on Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road.
Speaking to Bangkok Post reporters this week, he slammed the nervousness of the current government as an impediment to business while operators try to pay off huge debts incurred over two years of closure.
‘It has been more than two years since the outbreak and we here in Khao San are up to our ears in debt. Yet when the outbreak is easing, the government gets nervous,’ he declared.
‘Customers don’t visit these places for a bath and massage’ – nightlife business owner says his clients are less than happy seeing masseuses with masks
Another nightlife business operator on the Sukhumvit Road, one of the most popular among foreign visitors to Thailand, did not pull any punches when he blasted the current protocols that industry operators are expected to comply with.
‘No soapy massage parlours will be able to open their doors to customers if the Covid-19 containment rules are strictly enforced,’ he explained. ‘Customers don’t visit these places just for a bath and massage. How are they supposed to keep a safe distance from those who give them the service? The patrons aren’t happy seeing their masseuses with masks on.’
The current reopening conditions mean that all premises and outlets must seek permission from local authorities to operate legally.
Customers must also show health certificates
In Bangkok, this is obtained through registering with an application called Thai Stop Covid 2 Plus, answering questions and preparing for an inspection by a local government official.
Similar regimes are in operation in all areas where an official nightlife restart has been authorised from June 1st in Thailand.
The criteria for reopening include adequate ventilation, provisions for enforcing social distance rules and regular antigen testing of staff at each premises.
In addition, all customers are required to show proof of inoculation against the virus.