Chiang Mai was previously well established as a top destination for Chinese tourists. The province used to attract 10.3 million local and foreign visitors annually, 70 percent of whom were from China. Tourism generated 102 billion baht in 2019, which was around 43 percent of Chiang Mai’s gross domestic product.
Overall, tourism used to account for about a fifth of Thailand’s economy. The government has been attempting to shore up the hotel industry with 40% subsidies on room rates for domestic tourists. Tourism generated $90 billion in 2019, 70 percent of which came from foreign arrivals.
Thailand has made a few tentative efforts to reopen the country, and Chinese visitors can apply for special tourist visas. On October 20, 100 Chinese tourists from Shanghai and Gwangju arrived in a blizzard of paperwork. They all had to be certified by the Chinese government as COVID free before entering a fortnight’s quarantine upon arrival, after which they were able to travel anywhere in Thailand for 90 days. Although the numbers were minute, the initiative offered a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
Hoteliers were hoping for a decent uptick in domestic travel during this period.
Although no lockdown has been announced, nearly 2,000 hotel bookings were immediately cancelled. Chiang Mai’s hotel occupancy rates are around 60% compared to 90% in 2019, according to the Thai Hotels Association (THA).
The infections in the north were the first evidence of local transmission in over six months for Thailand, which has been praised by the World Health Organization as one of the countries to have successfully fended off the pandemic.
Thailand’s public health triumph has come at great economic cost, however, and the lucrative tourism industry has been utterly devastated.
Fearing an outbreak, local tourism businesses quickly pooled funds and offered 100,000 baht ($3,300) to any tourist found with the virus while traveling in the vicinity. Compensation of 1 million baht was offered for relatives of anyone dying from COVID-19 after visiting Chiang Mai.
“The recent COVID case is a disaster for the tourism business,” Punlop Saejew, vice president of Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, told Nikkei Asia. “We need to do something because this is a golden time of year for the tourism industry here and we don’t want to lose the chance to recover.”
“It has ruined the hopes of hotel-related businesses here in Chiang Mai that were waiting for the high-season period,” said La-Iad Bungsrithong, president of the THA’s northern chapter.