Tour operators nervous despite easing restrictions
Anticipated challenges include ongoing viral outbreaks and economic hardship,
Passengers line up at a check-in counter at Suvarnabhumi Airport. Somchai Poomlard
Outbound travel has shown the first signs of a rebound as restrictions ease across the world, but tour operators expect many challenges from ongoing viral outbreaks and economic hardship.
Charoen Wangananont, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), said outbound tourism was on the verge of a revival when it was disrupted by a spike in infections from new subvariants in popular markets like the Japan and Korea.
The new wave could slow down the full reopening in these countries, especially in Japan.
Outbound travel to Europe has also faced hurdles with the time-consuming visa process that took months.
The TTAA plans to meet with relevant agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as embassies to find a solution to this problem.
He said operational costs for outbound operations had increased by 30-40% on average due to Covid-related expenses, airfares and rising cost of living, which had a direct impact on budgets. and frequency of travel for middle and low income segments.
“Tour operators continue to suffer from rising costs despite improved travel sentiment. We could maintain or reduce our margins to attract tourists,” Charoen said.
The association has more than 900 tour operators, 90% of which have already restarted, but most of them cannot fully operate as seen before the epidemic.
Tour operators had been hoping for solid business until the emergence of the Omicron variant last October, followed by the delayed reopening of Asian countries and the possibility of a new wave, said Thanapol Cheewarattanaporn, vice president of the TTAA.
Although the number of outbound trips has gradually increased, demand is still erratic.
Most workers in the tourism industry will not return due to lack of trust.
Somchai Chomraka, chairman of Weekend Tours, said Thais had started booking overseas trips in recent months, but volume remained below pre-Covid levels as some restrictions remained in Japan.
Air fares for group bookings also faced higher prices of around 5,000 to 6,000 baht for destinations in Europe.
He said the price for short-haul destinations was also 1,000 to 2,000 baht more expensive.
Outbound travel currently appears to be recouping as tourists their remaining credit with tour operators, but operators must wait until October to see the real flow of new demand, said Jitakorn Wijannarong, president of the Tour Operator Network Association. .
Mr Jitakorn said wholesalers should set practical and standard prices for tour packages and incentive schemes to educate tourists to focus on cheap services towards more reliable quality.
The TTAA will convene a meeting with wholesalers and retailers to discuss pricing standards, including travel insurance, to ensure high product quality.
Southeast Asia is one of the key destinations that the association will promote and create partnerships with the national tourism organization of each country to exchange tourist flows.
Charoen said potential countries including Laos and Vietnam have new tourism products, while Malaysia has emerged as a major tourism market.
Trips to neighboring countries mostly offer hassle-free travel with an affordable budget, and are also a good way for operators to reduce operational risks and control costs.
He said operators are offering more packages to neighboring countries to diversify products and avoid a red ocean market in destinations like Japan and South Korea.
“As Southeast Asia has over 600 million people, generating intra-regional tourism will help us sustain our business as we don’t have to rely solely on long-haul markets, especially if a crisis were to arise in the future,” Charoen said. .
Additionally, a joint network between the TTAA and the Association of Domestic Travel plans to educate tour operators on new products through familiarization trips and business matchmaking to support the recovery of two-way tourism.