The thing to remember when reading headline stories about the economic impact of COVID-19, and now oil prices, is that in most other places in the world much of it right now is pure speculation. It’s panic among the people and a money-run among investors. Thankfully Phuket has had no panic buying of toilet paper and food shortages, but the impact on the tourism industry is very real.
Tourism is crucial to Thailand as spending by foreign visitors amounted to B1.93 trillion last year, or 11% of gross domestic product (GDP). As the TAT sees it, the worst case scenario for the year is a fall of 10 million foreign tourists and B1.5trn lost in tourism revenues.
What we do need, and what has been lacking, is a shot of common sense. The new Phuket TAT Chief Napasorn Kakai openly admits Thailand’s overdependence on China as a source market and is already taking what steps she can to spread the range of tourists feeding our island economy.
The move by Vachira Phuket Hospital Director Chalermpong Sukontapol this week to go public with details about the death of 64-year-old Russian man Ilyas Karimov is also much welcomed. Whether skeptics believe him or not is their choice, but at least the death is publicly recognised and with information people can take reasonable precautions to protect themselves, and avoid panic.
The rash of cancellations of mass-gathering events this week also raised concerns. It was almost as if all major event organisers had received a direct order, not a recommendation by the health officials. To be clear, our cinemas and shopping malls remain open and our schools and fresh markets have not been closed, and there has not been any outbreak reported by a public who are heavily attached to their mobile phones and social media networks.
Cancelling events with large numbers of people in crowded areas is a prudent measure and this issue needs caution, but there is no reason at this stage to shut down the island. We ask all event organisers to choose wisely.