Airlines nervous about Songkran travel

9 Apr 2021

Airlines are urging the government to stop domestic travel during the Songkran holiday period in time to prevent a third wave of Covid-19, or else Thailand's tourism sector will suffer more losses in the long run.

The fresh outbreak, which has spread from Bangkok's entertainment hubs to 20 provinces, must be nipped in the bud as the long holiday next week, which will see a mass evacuation, particularly of people returning to their hometowns and holidaymakers. Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation, said (TAA).

As millions of people have already planned their trips, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration announced on Thursday that there will be no lockdown during the traditional New Year celebrations.

However, if there is a risk of virus exposure, each province retains the authority to impose its own travel restrictions, such as mandatory quarantine for inter-provincial travelers.

Mr. Tassapon said the spike of cases at this time is worrisome as it challenged the government in deciding how to contain the virus as people continue to travel.

The majority of TAA passengers are sticking to their plans. The average load factor next week will hit 80-85%, while the airline recently called almost all furloughed staff back to their posts.

"If the government can stop it earlier. It should consider imposing strict travel restrictions. Even though the tourism industry may lose lucrative income, we have to accept it if that would benefit the whole country," he said.

Thailand has set a July 1st reopening date for inoculated tourists, with Phuket as the first destination to remove mandatory quarantine from entry requirements.

He added that the country's travel restrictions are necessary as long as the vaccination program's rollout remains slow.

Travel restrictions are reasonable for the ongoing situation, according to Nuntaporn Komonsittivate, head of commercial operations at Thai Lion Air (TLA), because infection clusters are not easily controllable like the labor clusters in Samut Sakhon late last year.

"Travel restrictions won't be good for airlines," she said, "but in the meantime, we should focus on long-term benefits instead of short-term revenue."

TLA forecasts a load factor of over 70% next week, although some guests may cancel their trips if the number of new cases escalates in the next few days.