Holiday spots in southern Thailand face hard times after coronavirus outbreak

PHANG NGA, Thailand (Reuters) - Thai tourist boat company “Love Andaman” is facing a bleak February after China banned all outbound group tours this week to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

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China is Thailand’s biggest source of foreign tourists, accounting for 28 percent of the 39.8 million visitors last year, and China’s ban has left many in Thailand’s tourism industry worried about their future.

“I’m a bit stressed out about this. Yesterday was the first time in over 10 years working as a tour guide where there was barely any tourists,” said Amie Hemthanon, a “Love Andaman” guide said on Thursday.

“Because China closed down a few of its cities, we took a big hit, the (Chinese) tourists are gone and 100 percent cancellations going forward.”

More than 8,100 people have been infected globally in the outbreak, mostly in China, with millions of Chinese on lockdown as the authorities rush to stem its spread.

Thailand itself has recorded 14 cases of coronavirus, all but one of them among Chinese people visiting Thailand.

Amie’s company usually operates 21 to 30 boats on the Andaman Sea in the peak season, ferrying tourists out to spots on the coast of Phang Nga province and the island of Phuket.

On Thursday only one boat had been hired by a group of Chinese tourists.

“Chinese tourists are so important to our tourism industry. We hope that they could overcome these problems soon,” Amie said.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has said it expects 2 million fewer Chinese tourists this year than last year, when 11 million arrived.

Reduced travel from China could result in 50 billion baht ($1.52 billion) of lost tourism revenue, the Tourism Ministry estimates.

Traders at a popular market on Phuket said that almost 80% of Chinese tourists had disappeared since the coronavirus outbreak.

“But we don’t ban them, we welcome the tourists. We protect ourselves by wearing masks to cover the nose. But if they come here, we really welcome them here,” Tanawan Menthongkam, a jewelry store vendor said.

($1 = 0.0329 baht)

Writing by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Alison Williams