The predicted impact came during a visit to Phuket by Nathee Thinsakoo, Deputy Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Tourism, on Monday (Feb 17) to hear grievances from the ailing industry.
Mr Nathee’s visit to Phuket comes amid a dramatic plunge in the number of international tourist arrivals at Phuket International Airport – falling anywhere from 21% to 48% year on year to the day from Feb 1-18, but so far averaging as a fall of just over 36% overall.
The plunge began on Jan 26, hot on the heels of China banning its citizens from travelling abroad on Jan 23 in the hopes of containing the spread of the virus.
Mr Nathee told the meeting in Phuket that he was already aware that Chinese tourist arrivals to Thailand in February had fallen by 60-70%.
However, he warned that the worst month will be March, when the number of Chinese tourist arrivals is expected to fall by at least 90% year on year.
Mr Nathee said that current predictions expected Chinese tourists to start to return in April, when it is expected the spread of the virus will start to be contained, but recovering to only 50% of previous levels.
Dr Chayanon Pucharoen PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the Prince of Songklha University (PSU) Phuket’s Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism, agreed.
Although he gave no forecast for the predicted impact on Phuket’s tourism industry for February, Dr Chayanon warned that in March, “The tourism situation in Phuket will lose around B8.5-9bn in tourism revenues in one month.”
Dr Chayanon also predicted that overall from February through April, the lack of Chinese tourist arrivals may cost Phuket’s tourism industry around B30-32bn in lost revenues.
The financial impact was calculated on an average daily spending amount of B6,334, a figure he said he sourced from the National Statistical Office (NSO).
Sarayuth Mallam, President of Phuket Tourism Industry Council and the Phuket Tourist Association’s Vice President of Government Relations, said that Phuket had been hit hard by the fallout – and not just the tourism industry, but also many associated and dependent industries.
“Each year 3 million Chinese tourists visit the island and this year’s huge shortfall has been felt in most business sectors. Some local tour companies have been forced to shut down their businesses permanently,” Mr Sarayuth said.
Mr Sarayuth said that some hotels had already closed, while other hoteliers had already decided to to close for at least three months to ride out the storm. “And some have not paid staff salaries as well,” he added.
“The overall impact might result in 30% of tourism-related businesses shutting down,” Mr Sarayuth warned.
Hotel occupancy rates are declining, and hotels that depend on Chinese tours are heavily affected.
“Almost all customers have disappeared now, all tourism businesses are affected, including hotels, spas, souvenir shops, rubber pillow outlets, shows, entertainment venues and guides.
“The atmosphere is very quiet. Even large stores such as King Power are open for only office hours and encourage tourists to use the airport instead,” he said.
Mr Sarayuth explained to Mr Nathee that Phuket businesses were united in their call for the government to provide support through soft loans, for which a formal request was handed to Phuket Governer Phakaphong Tavipatana earlier this month.
Governor Phakaphong on Feb 3 was handed a formal request for the government to provide up to B20bn in assistance to tourism businesses suffering as the number of international tourist arrivals continues to plunge in the fallout from the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in China. The same request was sent to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Ministry Finance on Jan 28.