Thailand supports businesses with $11 bil. more, expects millions of tourists to return
By Chalermlapvoraboon Valaiporn
BANGKOK, NNA—Thailand has allocated another $11.33 billion (355 billion baht) for financial aid, subsidy and co-payment schemes to help Thai businesses still reeling from the pandemic fallout.
While the tourism-dependent kingdom is looking forward to reopening the country gradually to international tourism with the progress of COVID-19 vaccination in the months ahead, businesses especially in the hospitality and tourism sectors still need financial support to tide them over.
Announcing cabinet approval of the additional stimulus packages on March 23, finance minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said 250 billion baht has been set aside for soft loans by the Bank of Thailand to help small and medium businesses stay afloat.
Another 100 billion baht will be provided for asset warehousing to allow struggling business operators such as hotel owners to park their assets with lenders while giving them the right to buy them back.
In line with the move to facilitate more credit to businesses, the Bank of Thailand has also decided to hold its benchmark rate at a record low of 0.5 percent.
Tourism, which contributed about 20 percent to the gross domestic product, is seen as key to recovery after it contracted by 6.1 percent last year.
Millions of tourists are expected to return in the second half of the year and spend a couple of billions if a plan to reopen Phuket to vaccinated tourists from July is successful and pave the way for further opening.
With thousands of hotels still suffering from low occupancy, the cabinet is allocating another 5 billion baht for its latest co-payment scheme to help the hospitality sector and boost local tourism.
The government will subsidize 40 percent of a tourism package, with a cap of 5,000 baht per person for about 1 million participants aged 18 and above.
“This approval is to mainly support the recovery of Thai tourism businesses and its supply chain, affected by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Thailand's deputy prime minister, Supattanapong Punmeechaow.
The Thai cabinet also approved the extension of Rao Tiew Duay Gun or We Travel Together program to enter its third phase, starting on May 1.
About 5.7 billion baht from budget leftovers from the earlier phases will enable another 2 million people to benefit from cheaper stays at hotels.
Apart from anti-fraud measures following incidents of fraudulent claims, the value of an e-voucher is now standardized at 600 baht a day instead of having different amounts for weekday and weekend stays.
Since last year following border closures, Thailand has been trying to boost domestic travel by issuing discounts and financial schemes to help the hospitality sector mitigate severe losses as international travelers were barred from entry.
With the upcoming long break for the Thai New Year or Songkran celebration, businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors are expecting to reap gains from increased spending and domestic travel around mid-April, according to a survey conducted by Kasikorn Research Center.
Nearly 40 percent of 400 people interviewed said they were thinking of traveling to beach resorts like Cham-Am, Hua Hin, Pattaya and Phuket, and would avoid places that are very crowded or have COVID-19 cases.
They also said they are more likely to drive their own cars to their holiday destination.
At least 3.84 million Thai residents are expected to travel within the kingdom and spend up to 15.9 billion baht ($507.6 million) during the nine-day Songkran break starting from April 9.
Thailand tourism authorities are expecting about two million foreign tourists, mostly Chinese and Europeans, to descend on Phuket in the second half of this year when it reopens in July to vaccinated visitors under an experimental quarantine-free plan.
Tourism Council of Thailand vice president Vichit Prakobgosol said the tourists visiting the country's most popular resort island may contribute about 105 billion baht ($3.3 billion) to the economy this year.