By Orathai Sriring
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand recorded its first 1,201 foreign tourists in October since a ban in April aimed at averting coronavirus outbreaks, as the country gradually opens up to a select number of visitors to help its struggling, tourism-reliant economy.
Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy contracted 6.4% in the third quarter from a year earlier after the second quarter’s 12.1% slump as most virus restrictions were eased, but an absence of tourists is limiting the recovery.
The 1,201 foreign visitors in October is a fraction of the 3.07 million arrivals in the same month last year.
Tourism ministry data showed the latest visitors included 471 from China, 231 from neighbouring Cambodia, 178 from Middle East countries and 116 from Europe, all travelling on special 90-day visas that require two weeks of quarantine.
Thailand’s entry restrictions have helped keep its coronavirus case tally to less than 4,000.
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It plans to restart talks with China on a travel bubble to boost an economy the government predicts will shrink by 6% this year.
But the country has yet to agree any such arrangements and previous plans were abandoned in August after coronavirus cases in Asia increased.
New outbreaks have seen several other travel bubbles between Asia-Pacific countries aborted or fail to take off, including between New Zealand and Australia, and Hong Kong and Singapore.
In January-October 2020, the number of foreign tourists in Thailand dropped 79.5% to 6.69 million – there were zero tourists recorded in April-September.
The state planning agency has forecast 6.7 million foreign tourists this year after last year’s revised record 39.9 million visitors who spent 1.91 trillion baht ($63 billion), or about 11.3% of gross domestic product (GDP).
It predicts only 5 million foreign visitors in 2021.
GRAPHIC: Thailand’s foreign tourists – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/yxmvjbbrlvr/Pasted%20image%201600922793092.png
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Martin Petty)