Tourism operators in Hat Yai seeking helping hand

Occupancy rate stood at just 10% in May

Three Thai women make their way with their luggage into Malaysia at the Sadao border checkpoint in the southern province of Songkhla on April 1. Thailand reopened the southern checkpoint after a period of prolonged closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (AFP photo)

Tourism operators in Hat Yai are calling for additional support when it comes to registration for the Thailand Pass and bus services at the Malaysian border, particularly at the Sadao checkpoint, in order to bring back tourists.

“Tourism operators in Hat Yai are still struggling to maintain their business despite the reopening as most arrivals are Malaysian businessmen, not tourists,” said Kamon Suttiwannopat, president of Songkhla Tourism Association.

Obstacles at the Sadao checkpoint, which is the major southern entrance into the country, are registration for the Thailand Pass and the insurance requirement.

He said buses making a single journey from Malaysia, which usually operate via Songkhla, are not allowed to enter the country. Tourists who have luggage with them have to drop it off at the checkpoint for the time-consuming immigration process, then use local vehicles to continue their trip.

Moreover, the frequency of buses travelling one-way, which is a popular choice for Malaysians visiting Thailand, is limited. Services have only resumed at 10% of the regular level as demand has not fully returned, said Mr Kamon.

The occupancy rate at over 50 hotels generating around 10,000 rooms in Hat Yai stood at less than 10% in May.

He said the weak level of performance is expected to continue this month.

If the Thailand Pass requirement were to be removed in July and checkpoints were allowed to ease current restrictions, the occupancy rate would pick up by 10-20%.

The Sadao checkpoint was closed for two years and officially reopened on April 1 this year.

The reopening had lead the checkpoint to become among the busiest locations for foreign visitors, according to Sukanya Sirikanjanakul, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) executive director for Asean, South Asia and South Pacific.

As of June 11, the number of international arrivals at Sadao reached 37,982, the highest level among all the country’s land borders.

Overall, Thailand has received 128,619 Malaysian visitors, second only to tourists from India at 163,160.

Ms Sukanya said although Malaysians can use a border pass for a temporary visit of three days and two nights without needing to register for the Thailand Pass, many tourists still prefer to use their passports in order to travel to other destinations within Thailand.

Following the cancellation of the Test & Go scheme in May, daily arrivals from Malaysia occasionally surpassed 5,000 which was even higher than the level recorded from the Indian market.

TAT also plans to hold discussions with Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and AirAsia regarding the operation of more flights from Malaysia in an effort to gain a 40-50% recovery from pre-Covid levels, she said.

Ms Sukanya said that as well as the Sadao border crossing, the Nong Khai checkpoint in the northeast of the country is also important to attract visitors from Laos.

There are a number of medical tourists seeking treatment from hospitals in Udon Thani and Bangkok, she said.