THAILAND TOURISM Looking To the Sky For Answers
My Saturday is something of a case of man interrupted. So many questions but sadly so few answers. Despite a growing tinge of optimism over the green shoots of Thailand’s baby steps towards reopening travel, what keeps me awake at night are nagging thoughts about airlift.
I’ve often said, “you can’t stay there if you can’t get there.” Airlift after all continues to be a top shelf polestar for tourism. Please bear with me for a moment as I set the stage.
I’m often asked by people across Asia what is the secret of Thailand’s tourism magic numbers?
Food, hospitality, beaches, brand? My answer is often centered on the theory of location. Thailand is blessed to be both a destination and is an international, regional and domestic aviation hub. It also sits within 6-8 hours flying time of half the world’s population.
As we slowly but steadily start to emerge from the dark shadows of Covid-19, the world of travel has become an altered state. Asia’s fifteen-year massive surge in low-cost airline growth (LCC) has come to an end. There is a knock at the door and it’s called reality for this starts ups who have thrived in a ecosphere of sustained growth.
The current conundrum for Thailand’s is in effect the veritable ‘double whammy’ of cash strapped LCC’s but also the fragile nature of its national flag carrier Thai Airways International.
For all the complaints about Thai, it’s positive impact for tourism to Phuket and throughout the country is enormous.
Staring into the uncertainty of post-crisis airlift, from an island perspective the replacement of having Thai Smile take over the service of domestic routes in smaller aircraft, and lacking suitable business class or any first class seats is a negative for upscale travelers.
Tack onto the larger issue of Thai shrinking their international routes and the trickle impact in less available seats in the next few years is somewhat alarming. Do the math, smaller planes, less flghts, fewer feeder destinations.
I keep saying that the current crisis is simply an accelerator of trends already in motion and this is the case with airlift. We are not in unknown territory. In Asia there are many of national legacy carrier disruption. From the Philippines various versions of Philippine Airlines, to Indonesia’s Garuda’s flight bans and onto Malaysia Airlines downsized model.
All of these countries managed through the rough patches, but none has the sheer numbers of international tourists that Thailand does. My nightmare thoughts turn to nearby Cathay Pacific who are key feeders to the country from North Asia and North America and wonder what will happen to that situation. Let’s just say aviation stress is not good for travel.
Another concern is the non-scheduled charter flights, especially the winter ‘snowbirds’ from Europe. TUI’s financial woes and stress in the wholesale tour market that links to charter flights so beach destinations like Phuket, Khao Lak, Krabi and Pattaya will no doubt see less airlift in the coming winter season.
Looking to wrap this up, as in any crisis some form of consolidation is inevitable as will some failed enterprises. We are again at the start of a new cycle but this time out for Thailand who have flirted with the 40 million market, the lack of airlift is likely going to be the biggest mountain to climb in the new few years.
Aviation is so important to the success or failure of tourism but for now, the challenges that face virtually every sector are creating pressure on any clear outlook for the moment. We can look to the sky for answers but for the moment the sky might now answer back. Stay tuned.