Thailand Rolls Out Domestic Tourism Subsidy Program With 40% Off Hotel/Air Fare (Thai Citizens Only)

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The government of Thailand has opened up a previously planned promotion called “We Tour Together” to boost domestic tourism, offering Thai citizens a reduction of 40% off hotels, air fare and food expenses.

Foreigners – no matter if visitors or residents – are not eligible to apply under this scheme and the promotion is capped to two million discounted air tickets and five million discounted hotel rooms.

The Thai tourism industry which accounts for roughly 17% of the overall GDP is pretty much dormant due to the borders being closed to foreign visitors for the 4th straight month now.

I’ve been staying in Thailand since February this year and have been visiting several hotels recent weeks where I talked with contacts who confirm that they currently deal with single digit occupancy IF the property is open at all.

The government has decided that in order to give the tourism industry a boost again they will roll out this “We Tour Together” subsidy scheme, timely enough for hotels to reopen as the social security for furloughed hotel workers is running out (employees here receive 60% of their base salary from social security, some owners top this amount up with a little more but obviously the very important service charge component [70% of the total salary] is missing entirely).

Thai PBS has a summary about the way this scheme works.

While Thailand remains closed to foreign tourists, as part of the anti-coronavirus restrictions, starting today (Wednesday), Thai citizens can apply online for significant discounts on air tickets, hotel accommodation and food bills. The project is part of the Government’s efforts to boost domestic tourism.

Under the “We Tour Together” program, the tax payer will subsidize 40% of hotel rates, up to 3,000 baht per applicant, and 40% of air fares and food expenses.  Two million discount air tickets and five million discounted hotel rooms are available.

Each applicant can book up to five rooms or five hotel nights and pay 60% of the bill, with the rest being covered by the scheme.  Once bookings are made, however, there are no refunds for cancellations.

For discount air tickets, applicants must pay 60% of the fare first and the balance will be wired to bank accounts on the 15th or 30th of each month.

So far, only about 200 hotels have joined this program, partly because many of them remain closed due to a lack of foreign tourists, especially hotels in the southern and northern regions.

In order to join the promotion one must be a Thai national, aged at least 18 on the day of application.

There is relatively little to no English material available due to the fact that this promotion is targeted to Thai nationals only. The only way foreigners could benefits from this is when they share a room with a local friend or partner.

There has been criticism about this program from a couple corners. Many Thai’s complained that this will eventually just cost the taxpayer money while not benefiting those who really lost the most (jobs, savings, businesses) during this pandemic and can barely afford to make ends meet, let alone travel.

Foreign residents including retirees, work permit holders and permanent residents voiced their discontent about discrimination that this promotion is only targeted to Thai nationals. While right in principle, do foreigners who reside in Thailand really NEED this subsidy? Especially since not all hotels participate and rates are extremely low as it is.

I guess you can’t please everybody with these schemes. Japan has announced and will roll out a similar program which John will cover this week. Fact is that in Thailand employees are now coming back to work and hotels as well as the entire tourism sector needs to figure something out.

As long as borders are closed tourism is pretty much dead and domestic tourism alone isn’t able to fuel such a giant industry that was always reliant on foreigners, especially in this economy. There is no way that hotels can get back to occupancy rates that even remotely break even let alone make a profit. This might not so much impact the extremely wealthy owners of the big luxury hotels but the rest is suffering.

Conclusion

In Bangkok most hotels were closed and have gradually reopened since mid June with more coming back online on August 1st. The same goes for Koh Samui and Phuket. The only place that has been really busy is Hua Hin which is in driving distance from Bangkok and a popular weekend beach destination. I haven’t been there myself but I’ve seen pictures and heard it’s madness on weekends.

This program – although useful to some – isn’t going to benefit the vast majority of the population and it won’t salvage the tourism industry either. For that to happen Thailand needs to reopen to international visitors and that seems a distant dream as of now. Thai Airways also remains grounded for international flights until at least September and some voices even say October. The country will face some serious socio-economic issues as a result of this. Let’s hope the industry can at least keep itself afloat somehow over the next six months or so.

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