Finding a return flight was not easy for the two retirees who spend three months each year on Koh Samui. With the few airlines that are still flying, most one-way economy tickets suddenly cost more than 1000 euros. A still comparatively cheap flight at Oman Air, which the couple booked, was canceled again at short notice.
The couple saw the federal government’s return program as the last option. Mr. and Mrs. Pelz were waiting for the first special flight from the Thai capital at the Bangkok airport on Friday morning, which should bring them back to Germany by evening.
Around a dozen charter flights are planned in the coming days to bring stranded vacationers back to Europe. They are operated by Condor, each flight has space for 250 passengers.
The return campaign from the Southeast Asian country is one of the Federal Foreign Office’s largest missions in the corona crisis. “Nobody imagined that the vacation in Thailand would end like this,” said Ambassador Georg Schmidt, who oversees the check-in in a neon-colored safety vest.
Apart from the German returnees, the huge departure hall in Bangkok seems deserted. The airport handled around 70 million passengers last year. Now the word “Canceled” appears on the scoreboards behind almost every single flight listed. Almost all counters are closed, cleaning staff walks through empty passages, employees in a newspaper kiosk cover their shop windows with a plastic tarpaulin.
Depending on tourism
The departure of the last tourists is a bitter moment for Thailand: no other country in Asia is as dependent on business with holidaymakers as Thailand.
In the corona crisis, the country now threatens to experience the worst recession in the region. The World Bank expects economic output to shrink by three to five percent this year – while Asia’s emerging markets as a whole can still hope for growth of up to two percent.
Thailand’s central bank is also preparing the population for a tough year: it even predicts a decline in gross domestic product (GDP) of 5.3 percent. It was not that bad about Southeast Asia’s second largest economy since the Asian crisis in 1998.
The decline of tourism is one of the main reasons for the crash: According to the industry association World Travel and Tourism Council, business with travelers directly and indirectly ultimately accounted for around 20 percent of the country’s economic output. This source of income has now almost completely dried up.
In the beach metropolis of Pattaya and on the island of Phuket – two of the most popular tourist destinations – the authorities have ordered that hotels are no longer allowed to accept guests. Phuket’s beaches are also closed – instead of vacationers, only patrolling police officers can be seen there. The international airport on the island is also scheduled to close next week.
Nationwide, all bars and restaurants are closed. Food can only be sold to take away. There has also been a curfew at night since Friday evening. Thailand is no longer a holiday destination.
The local hotel association expects 1.6 million employees to be affected by the crisis. In Bangkok there was an exodus of workers who retreated to their hometowns in the provinces or neighboring countries.
Animal rights activists warn that the crisis will also affect hundreds of elephants living in captivity in tourist attractions. Their owners are at risk of running out of money for the expensive feed without visitors.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha’s government is trying to dampen the crisis with extensive stimulus packages: it has already adopted two spending programs with a volume of around three percent of economic output.
On Friday, Economics Minister Somkid Jatusripitak announced another program of around ten percent of GDP. “The authorities are doing what they can,” said Prakash Sakpal, economist at Bank ING.
However, the government will not be able to compensate for the lack of spending by foreign guests. And a quick return of the tourists is hardly to be expected.
The national airline Thai Airways has already announced that flight operations will be discontinued by the end of May. The airline’s aircraft are now parked unused at the airport.
Movement on the tarmac primarily comes from return flights like those of the federal government. The flights, on which EU citizens can also travel, should initially take place daily – until demand wanes and the last holidaymakers are at home again.
More: Return campaign from abroad: How a German couple experienced the return trip from Morocco. Read more here.