The prolonged lockdown measures to contain the COVID-19 spread have taken a heavy toll on the Southeast Asian country’s economy, while tourism industry are almost on the verge of collapse.
In Thailand’s Phuket or Cebu City in the Philippines, which are considered as key tourist destination, tour operators, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and amusement facilities are struggling to stay in business without foreign travelers.
“COVID-19 has affected us. We haven’t had any customers since the end of March,” the caretaker of Phuketastic Travel told DW on condition of anonymity. Most of Phuketastic Travel’s customers are Germans, who made the fourth-largest group of foreign travelers to visit Phuket in 2016, after the Chinese, the Russians and the Australians, according to the National Statistical Office of Thailand.
With the tour company’s office temporarily closed during the pandemic, Phuketastic Travel’s 40-year-old caretaker is facing financial hardship. There is little she can do apart from monitoring the ever-changing pandemic situation.
Thomas Moog, who runs a German restaurant and offers tour services in Phuket, is also uncertain about the future.
“The current crisis is worse than the tsunami [in 2004]. Back then, we cleaned up and reopened our business. Now we have no idea when things will go back to normal,” Moog, who has been living in Thailand for nearly 20 years, told DW.
In 2019, over 14 million travelers, including 10 million foreign tourists, visited Phuket.
It is not only in Thailand or the Philippines. Pandemic is causing tremendous damage to the tourism industry in all other countries. Empty hotels, cancelled flights, closed tourist sights. The coronavirus is crippling global tourism. The industry is already expecting losses running into billions.
The crisis in Europe is growing: Since the outbreak in Italy, popular tourist destinations are often deserted. In Venice and Milan, museums, theaters and places of interest remain closed, major events have been cancelled. In France, too, the Louvre remains closed for a third consecutive day because employees have stopped working for fear of infection.
The situation in Asia is more dramatic than in Europe. Of the approximately 150 million trips abroad made by Chinese people, a full 90% go to Asian countries. Chinese tourists have become a decisive economic factor there. However, because most airlines have discontinued their connections to China, the affluent guests from the People’s Republic have largely stayed away.
The Indonesian island of Bali announced that thousands of hotel bookings have already been cancelled. Japan is even more affected. There, guests from China accounted for around a quarter of the total of 32 million foreign visitors in 2018. Many sights are now visited almost exclusively by tourists from Europe and North America — although they are also increasingly staying away because of the coronavirus.
There’s a similar picture in the tourism industry in Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
“It is certainly a catastrophe for these countries,” tourism professor and director of the China Outbound Tourism Institute (COTRI), Wolfgang Arlt told DW. Many, especially smaller businesses such as souvenir shops, hotels and tour operators have already had to close. Tourism in Thailand fears a decline of 6 million guests this year, 16% less than last year.