Can SA tourism learn from Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox plan?
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It is nothing new that the pandemic has contributed to a decline in travel.
The World Travel and Tourism Council says the travel and tourism sector suffered a loss of almost $4.5 trillion (R64 trillion), with the contribution to GDP dropping by a staggering 49.1% compared to 2019; relative to a 3.7% GDP decline of the global economy in 2020.
Chiravadee Khunsub, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the importance of a healthy tourism industry to the global economy is very clear.
“One-tenth of the world’s economy is already significant, but, for many countries, the portion that tourism contributes to their individual GDPs is even greater.
"Thailand, for example, attributed nearly 22% of its GDP to tourism in 2019. By comparison, only 3% of South Africa’s GDP came from tourism during that period, but it also employed close to one in 20 working adults.
“In a country such as South Africa, where unemployment is such a massive concern, tourism fulfils a very important function," she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic left a lasting effect on the economies of a vast number of countries, she said.
“In light of Tourism Month celebrated in September, and World Tourism Day on September 27, we believe that reviving the global tourism industry should be top of mind for people everywhere.
“There are many great initiatives by both private and public bodies to rebuild and lift the industry, so raising awareness of these activities will go a long way towards restoring the tourism sector to pre-pandemic levels," she added.
Khunsub shed light on Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox plan, a model that allows travellers from low and medium-risk countries to enter Thailand without quarantine. However, travellers must be fully vaccinated and comply with Covid-19 testing, mask and distancing regulations.
"The plan has already seen great success, because of the island’s efficient pandemic protocols, and the fact that tourists have seen the value of being the first travellers to return to this destination. The plan is now being rolled out in other provinces as well.
“In addition, we are placing a much bigger focus on sustainable tourism. As part of its post-pandemic recovery, Thailand wants to promote environmental-friendly activities for its tourists.
“In the past 18 months that tourism has been paused, the natural environment has recovered incredibly well, to the same condition as 20 years ago. Preserving this progress is something that we have now made a priority," added Khunsub.
There is room for innovative ideas that can help the sector adjust to a new world, she said.
“The pandemic has changed the world, but it hasn’t robbed us of opportunities to travel. With the right input, tourism can grow to become even more important to the global economy than ever before,” Khunsub said.