Thailand plans $722 million subsidy to spur domestic travel after virus crisis

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will defray costs for domestic holidaymakers, with the cabinet approving measures worth 22.4 billion baht ($722 million) on Tuesday, to help the tourism industry after visitors dried up because of the coronavirus crisis.

FILE PHOTO: Empty chairs are seen on a beach which is usually full of tourists, amid fear of coronavirus in Phuket, Thailand March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Tourism makes up more than 10% of an economy that the state planning agency estimates will shrink 5% to 6% this year in its worst performance since the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.

“The domestic tourism stimulus will help support the economy in the third and fourth quarters as it will increase spending,” Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana told reporters.

On offer to Thai domestic tourists over the next four months are free visits to health officials, and subsidies for hotel rooms, meals and transport, a government spokeswoman said.

The scheme, to be rolled out from July to October, will support domestic trips by 1.2 million medical personnel and health volunteers, for a value of 2.4 billion baht, the spokeswoman, Traisulee Traisoranakul, told a news briefing.

Domestic travellers also stand to receive a subsidy that amounts to 20 billion baht, including a 40% discount on 5 million hotel room nights, up to a value of 3,000 baht a night, as well as up to 3,000 baht on meals and other amenities.

The government will discount air or bus tickets by 40%, up to a limit of 1,000 baht, Traisulee added.

Some details remain to be worked out, she said.

Thailand, which has a tally of 3,135 infections and 58 deaths since January, lifted a nationwide curfew on Monday and relaxed curbs further, as coronavirus infections slowed sharply.

Foreign arrivals could tumble 65% in the Southeast Asian nation this year because of the pandemic, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has said.

Thailand had no foreign visitors in April, when it imposed a ban on international passenger flights until the end of June. Last year, foreign tourists contributed 11.4% of GDP while domestic tourism made up 6%.

Thailand aims to attract foreign visitors by creating so-called travel bubbles with nations that have also managed to rein in the virus, but has set no deadline.

Reporting by Orathai Sriring and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez