Thai tour guides left jobless by the collapse of Thailand’s tourism industry during the coronavirus pandemic increasingly are turning to suicide, believing it their only way out of crisis.
Just in the southern city of Hat Yai, on the border with Malaysia, nine registered tour guides have committed suicide since Thailand’s borders closed to mass tourism in March 2020, said Witthaya Sae Lim, former chairman of a professional guides’ association in Songhkla Province.
All of the 600 or so guides in Hat Yai have been out of work since early last year, according to Witthaya. He added that most unemployed guides depend on handouts of food and other necessities as they have had no income for 18 months.
Driven by desperation, several unemployed guides have resorted to stealing to support themselves and their families, the industry insider said.
Elsewhere, too, great numbers of Thais who made a living before the pandemic by catering to foreign tourists have fallen on hard times in a country where tourism is a major source of employment and accounts for around a fifth of GDP.
Almost all popular travel destinations around Thailand, which welcomed some 40 million visitors in 2019, have been left without many tourists, forcing numerous businesses to shutter their doors, many of them permanently.
Hardest hit have been low-income earners and small-business owners who relied on a steady influx of foreign tourists to make a living by selling them services from food to massages.
Last year alone, at least 800,000 Thais, many of whom worked in tourism-related jobs, were plunged into poverty, according to the Thailand Development Research Institute.
Hundreds of thousands of others are likely to have become impoverished this year since the economy continues to remain moribund as a result of a raging Covid-19 outbreak that has seen more than 13,000 people die and over 1.3 million become infected.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry has said it would like to see Thailand reopened to foreign visitors by next January without the need for a two-week quarantine to try and revive the tourism industry.
However, the planned reopening is contingent on whether the country can achieve herd immunity to the novel coronavirus by then through an ongoing mass vaccination drive.
To date, 15 percent of Thailand’s 69 million citizens have been fully vaccinated, although more than 31 million have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Officials are planning to reopen Bangkok to foreign tourists in November in a trial project as most residents of the 10-million-strong capital will likely have been fully vaccinated by then.
It remains to be seen, however, how many foreign tourists will take advantage of Bangkok’s reopening if and when it happens.
“As Thailand is still recording daily caseloads of more than 10,000 and was downgraded to the red list for some target markets, the number of tourists this year might not exceed 300,000,” said Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, the minister of tourism and sport.
“However, if Thailand can return to the safe list this month, there are promising signs in the last quarter that we can hope for 1.2 million travelers.”
The original version of this story appears in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.