Top boss Heinecke: vaccines the ‘single ray of hope’ for the country’s battered tourism sector
In a two page letter sent to the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok last Thursday, the American-born businessman, one of the kingdom’s most successful executives, urged the government leader to use vaccines to reopen the country to foreign tourism and help restore international travel in and out of Thailand as an urgent priority to boost the economy.
As the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, gets more real about tourist numbers for 2021 and the industry’s prospects, one of the kingdom’s top businessman has urged the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha to embrace the availability of vaccines worldwide. In a letter, last week, to the PM, William Heinecke of the Minor Group, who was behind last year’s lockdown, now wants to see priority given to the key travel and tourism economic sectors.
One of Thailand’s leading hoteliers and businessmen, William Heinecke, the boss of the Minor Group, has written a letter to the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in which he lays out his ideas on the way forward for the country’s severely challenged tourism industry.
Mr Heinecke, at the end of March last year, was among those who openly and strongly urged the government to enter into lockdown mode to protect the country’s population against the danger posed by the Covid-19 virus in what he described as ‘short term pain’ to win the battle in the long-term, at that point, in time. His advice, then also, came in another open letter to the PM.
Two-page letter dated last Thursday warned that some hotels were shutting down ‘permanently’
In his two page letter, dated last Thursday, to the Prime Minister’s Office, he warned that another lockdown would be disastrous for the tourism industry, at this point. He explained that many were closing down because they cannot afford to stay open due to the depressed market. ‘Some are shutting down permanently’, he told the Prime Minister.
However, the top business executive was not focused on bad news. He told the PM that the ‘single ray of hope at the end of this long dark tunnel’ was the availability of effective vaccines.
Top doctor at Siriraj Hospital also endorsed vaccines
His comments are backed by one of the kingdom’s top doctors.
On Tuesday, Dr Prasit Watanapa of the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, in a Facebook Live event, said that data from the United States and the United Kingdom showed extraordinary progress at reducing the threat of infection with vaccination programmes extended to only 7 to 13% of the population.
Mr Heinecke proposed that all those involved in the hospitality and tourism sector should be included in the first phase of the country’s vaccination programme as a priority.
Message may be getting through
‘Such people continue to operate on the front lines, interacting with international and domestic travellers, risking contraction and further transmission,’ he said. ‘Prioritizing them along with healthcare workers and other high-risk groups for the vaccine would provide a necessary layer of protection for the country.’
It sounds like the American-born businessman’s message got through.
Government spokesman, Anucha Burapachaisri, on Sunday, indicated that priority would be given in the first phase of the country’s vaccination rollout to those involved in preserving the kingdom’s economic security.
Speeding up vaccine approvals may be a bit more difficult as the Thai Food and Drug Administration stands firm on strict screening of all candidates
The Minor Group boss then went on to encourage the government to expedite the approval of all vaccines so that the country gets access to the jabs as soon as possible.
In recent days, however, the Thai Food and Drug Administration has planted its feet firmly on this issue with Secretary-general Dr Paisarn Dankum insisting that the same rigorous protocols will be observed for all vaccine applications.
The only jab currently approved in Thailand is the AstraZeneca vaccine which only got the green light on January 20th after 100 experts reviewed a reported 10,000 pages of documentation.
Both the Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson, with their One-Shot vaccine product, have begun the process of seeking approval.
Broader travel privileges for vaccinated people
Thirdly, Mr Heinecke called on the government to allow those vaccinated in Thailand to enjoy broader travel privileges both within and outside the kingdom.
He was referring to businessmen and executives who are based in Thailand and who have been severely constrained during the pandemic.
Prepare for vaccine passports
The fourth key point made by the head of a firm that employs thousands of people in the kingdom, across a variety of sectors, was that the government should prepare for the deployment of vaccine passports in the next few months by airlines and other countries to facilitate a resurgence of international travel.
Vaccine passports are already on the government’s radar with the Department of Disease Control at the Ministry of Public Health reviewing the impact of vaccines in other countries and a commitment from the Director of the unit, Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, even before the end of 2020, that this is something officials are studying closely although public health would remain the priority.
Seychelles has sparked ‘great excitement’ by relaxing all entry criteria to vaccinated travellers
In Thursday’s letter to the PM, Mr Heinecke identified the Seychelles which he said has sparked ‘great excitement’ in the industry after relaxing all entry criteria for vaccinated travellers.
He then advanced the idea of using Phuket as a model for such a policy which would later be extended to Ko Samui and Pattaya where hotels are shuttered by order of the Chonburi Governor after he acceded to a request to do so by industry groups so that the beleaguered concerns could claim Social Security supports for staff.
Mr Heinecke said he was aware that the Phuket Tourist Association was already progressing such a proposal with senior government officials.
Minister of Tourism and Sports gets real about visitor numbers, now only 5 million in 2021
The move by the Minor Group CEO is coming as the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, in the last week, scaled back projections for visitor numbers in 2021 from 10 million foreign tourists some weeks ago to just 5 million now.
Mr Phiphat explained this by pointing out that 40% of the record number Thailand attained in 2019 came from Asian countries such as China, India and Malaysia.
Earliest visitors back will be Western and European
He forecast that initially, mass-market tourists returning to Thailand would arrive from more traditional, long-haul markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.
He said the number of arrivals to the kingdom depended on factors in Thailand but also within the countries of origin. This will all depend on how the vaccination programmes play out in these countries and the restrictions applied in the intermediate period.
Thai officials have noted that nearly all of the minuscule number of visitors, totalling 6,556, who entered Thailand in December 2020 as tourists, were from western countries.
About the Author
James Morris is a pename for an international writer based in Bangkok who works on various international news media. He is a sub editor with the Thai Examiner news website since it began in 2015. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.