Locals and tourists take part in an event organized on Patong Beach to mark the opening of Phuket to international tourists.
Thomas De Cian | NurPhoto | Getty Images
The darkest days for the tourism industry could soon be over, said the chairman of a multinational hotel company.
Tourist hotspots like Phuket are now open to international tourists who don’t need to be quarantined, and others like Koh Samui are following suit, said William Heinecke, CEO of Minor International, which runs a global hotel and restaurant chain.
The Thai government recently announced a “sandbox program” for Phuket, stating that the popular vacation island will be open to vaccinated Thai and foreign travelers from July 1st without quarantine. Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, will also be open to tourists from July 15th under the same rules.
Tourists can move around freely on both islands and after a 14-day stay in Phuket or Samui, set out for other cities in Thailand.
“I think we’re already seeing the results of this (sandpit) with people coming in … Phuket has effectively done it since July 1st,” with an increasing number of tourists every day, he told CNBC’s Street Signs last week .
Strong recovery in Europe, China
Minor International, which operates more than 530 hotels, resorts and serviced suites worldwide, is also experiencing a strong recovery in Europe, the Middle East and China, Heinecke said, pointing out that some regions have returned to pre-Covid levels or higher.
Hotels are also seeing strong demand for room types with higher priced room types – such as villas, suites, and deluxe rooms – that are occupied before the regular rooms.
“In Europe, where we have just reopened, we are seeing very strong demand. We have seen a very steady recovery in the Middle East since January … our Middle East real estate is now operating at pre-Covid World levels that are pre-Covid or higher. China is different, “he added.
One of the trends that we’re sure to see is a much stronger focus on wellness and immunity and people who care about their health.
CEO and Chairman, Minor International
Heinecke also pointed to the changed consumer behavior in tourism during the pandemic, adding that his company is taking advantage of this by offering more programs that focus on wellness.
“One of the trends that we’re sure to see is a much stronger focus on wellness and immunity and people who care about their health,” he added.
Risks to the outlook
While tourism demand has rebounded and the recovery has been strong in parts of the world, the rate of vaccine introductions in Asia was a cause for concern.
“We are still seeing slowness in many markets due to problems in (vaccine) production,” said Heinecke, citing slow progress in Malaysia and the Philippines.
That’s “in part because of AstraZeneca manufacturing in Thailand,” he added.
Thailand started producing Covid-19 vaccines for British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca in June. Its local partner Siam Bioscience, owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, will produce 180 million cans this year – more than a third for Thailand and two thirds for Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines.
However, last week there were reports that Thailand might cut exports of its locally made AstraZeneca vaccines to combat its own crisis.
According to Our World in Data, Asia is way behind North America, Europe and even South America in vaccine doses given per 100 people. North America gives about 78 doses per 100 people, while Asia lags behind at 49 doses, according to July 17 data.
Slow vaccinations lead to rising cases, even if the highly communicable Delta variant, first discovered in India, has become the dominant strain in the United States and is spreading to at least 104 countries.
From Singapore to Thailand and Australia, there have been restrictions and lockdowns, and travel corridors between cities and countries have been canceled, dampening the tourism industry’s comeback in 2021.
The availability of vaccines is critical, said Heinecke. “I believe in more vaccinations, less lockdown,” he said.