Second COVID Wave Hits Thai Domestic Travel

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As we enter 2021, airlines worldwide are looking forward to recovering and hoping to see passenger growth as we move into the spring/summer season. However, Thailand’s latest figures suggest that domestic passenger numbers in the area have dropped in recent weeks as a new wave of COVID-19 hits the region.

Thai Airways
A surge in COVID-19 cases has caused a huge drop in the number of domestic passengers in Thailand. Photo: Getty Images

Local media in Thailand are reporting that data from the Department of Airports (DoA) suggests traffic has dropped by around 60% since the beginning of the year. The report from the DoA has examined 20 airports to study domestic travel trends. TTGAsia.com states that the average number of domestic travelers at the end of December was around 30,000 per day. However, since the new year, this has plummeted to just 12,000 passengers a day.

Due to the massive drop in passenger numbers, airlines are starting to struggle. The report suggests that from January 6th, airlines have begun to cancel flights in large numbers as they are no longer worth operating. According to reports, airlines are asking the government for help dealing with this second sudden downturn. The acting director-general of the DoA is said to be discussing extra aid measures such as discounted landing fees, something which was previously in place to help airlines but ended at the start of the year.

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Although international flights have been difficult, a steady stream of domestic flights has helped airlines survive. The drop in domestic passengers is serious for most Thai airlines.  Photo: Getty Images

Thailand’s response to the outbreak

Of course, there is usually a slight decline in passenger numbers in January after the holiday travel boom. However, Thailand is in the middle of a second wave of the virus, which has drastically impacted travel demand. The country introduced new restrictions earlier this month, including the temporary closure of schools, gyms, and bars in Bangkok.

Local media outlets are reporting that more closures are expected and confirmed that the Transport Ministry would look at extending further aid to airlines. Both domestic and international travel in Thailand dropped by almost 60% last year compared to 2019 figures.

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However, the government made huge efforts to support its aviation and tourism industry by encouraging domestic travel. The massive success of the program saw domestic travel figures jump towards the end of last year.

Unfortunately, the very successful aid packages end in January, which means aid has been pulled right when airlines are facing another slump. But Thailand is already taking steps to counteract the growing number of cases. Inflight meals have been banned, and airlines can no longer hand out newspapers and magazines, nor can passengers buy souvenirs onboard.

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Nok Air Thai AirAsia
The largest shareholder of AirAsia Thailand has said the sudden slump could devastate the industry. Photo: Getty Images

A serious impact

Until recently, many people thought Thailand had avoided the worst of the virus as its aviation industry seemed to be recovering. AirAsia Thailand finished the year with some solid numbers fuelling rumors that a full recovery was not far off.

However, last week, in an interview with the Bangkok Post, Tassapon Bijleveld, executive chairman of Asia Aviation, the largest shareholder of AirAsia Thailand, said the airline had been hit by a 50% drop in domestic numbers. Bijleveld confirmed that this recent decrease in numbers had hit Thai airlines hard, saying that this new outbreak could destroy the industry and see the collapse of several airlines unless something was done.

What do you think of the new outbreak in Thailand? Will the airlines be able to survive this second slump? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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