Coronavirus cases linked to bar workers who illegally crossed the Myanmar border have dealt a body blow to northern tourism, with thousands of panicked Thais canceling travel plans during December’s holidays.
More than 1,700 room-night reservations at Chiang Mai hotels have been canceled since ten bar workers from the now-infamous 1G1-7 Hotel in Tachilek Province in Myanmar smuggled into the country, skipped quarantine and went on a travel and party blitz, said La-iad Bungsrithong, president of Thai Hotels Association (Upper Northern Chapter).
In addition, she said, numerous government and state-enterprise junkets have canceled their trips, costing more bookings.
As of Sunday, 23 confirmed Covid-19 cases have been linked to the group, 11 of them in Chiang Rai and 5 in Chiang Mai.
Before Nov 26, Chaing Mai tourism had been on the upswing with almost 70-percent occupancy rates increase as cooler weather set in, said Pallop Sae Jew, chairman of the Chiang Mai Tourism Industry Council. La-iad said hotel occupancy for December was expected to top 80 percent.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Sunday reiterated that no lockdown for the northern provicnes was being planned and not even bans on public events like concerts is being contemplated.
Chiang Mai’s governor met with hotel operators and travel organizations on Dec. 1 and told them the same thing, La-iad said.
Then came the new outbreak.
Pallop said 5 percent of all bookings were canceled after Nov. 26. About 10 percent of group tours also backed out.
Nongyao Nateprasit, president of the Association of Northern Tourism Federation in Chiang Rai, said the outbreak came as a shock, tourism companies had just rolled out a plan to recover from the the pandemic when the new cases surfaced.
Occupancy rates in the province had hit 80-90 percent in the past two months.
Nongyao said, however, he’s confident the crisis will be short-lived. If it is, the negative impact on northern tourism should be minimal.
Chiang Mai tourism groups also responded quickly to the new threat, launching a campaign to pay anyone who contracts Covid-19 in the city 100,000 baht if they get sick or a million baht if they die.
Phakkhanan Winitchai, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Chiang Mai Office, said he said Chiang Mai’s tourism business is solid enough to survive the crisis, but only if there is no lockdown and if other provinces don’t impose quarantines on returning travelers, as Udon Thani did last week.
It’s not only hotels that are feeling the brunt of the new cluser, however. Four Chiang Rai pub-restaurants were ordered closed for up to two weeks for disinfection and cleaning after the infected returnees visited there.
The closure of Tawandang Saadsaengduen Chiang Rai, Unseen Chiang Rai, 8080 and the Library Chiang Rai is an effort to convince tourists they are safe when they reopen.
Even flower gardens are wilting a bit, said Sombun Chaipanya, owner of a garden in Mae Rim District, who added that the popular garden might not survive another lockdown.
Tour guides also have been affected, said Manop Sae Chia, president of the Chiang Mai Tourist Guide Association. Guides had finally seen their incomes rebound after adjusting their offerings to cater to Thai – not foreign – tourists. But Thais are more skittish than farangs when a small crisis hits.