BANGKOK — Business owners and vendors at the once-bustling Pratunam Market say they are bearing the brunt of a massive drop in tourism amid the coronavirus epidemic.
Known for bargain priced goods, textiles, and souvenirs among tourists and Thais alike, the market is nearly deserted during a visit on Thursday afternoon. Some merchants said they want the government to step in and help them stay afloat.
“It was already bad [before the virus] but much worse now,” vendor Sasiwan Sukchuenruethai, 43, said. “Chinese, Vietnamese and Singaporean customers are now afraid, and Thais don’t come out.”
Sasiwan runs a shop selling cosmetics to mostly foreign tourists. She said her business has “dropped by 80 percent” over the past week.
Laem, also 43, is a coconut juice vendor in the area – selling one for 40 baht. Many coconuts sat unsold during an interview, even though it was already late in the afternoon.
“I used to get Singaporean, Chinese and Taiwanese customers,” Laem said. “Now they are gone.”
Ae, 52, sells tourist souvenirs just in front of the main market. Goods range from contemporary Buddha statues and T-shirts to Muay Thai shorts. The vendor said he noted a big plunge in the number of foreign shoppers in recent days.
“Nothing is selling well now,” he said.
The outbreak of coronavirus is expected to deliver a heavy blow to the tourism industry, a crucial sector in Thai economy. China has already banned overseas tour groups, cutting off a major source of tourism revenue for Thailand.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand said it estimated that only 9 million tourists would be visiting Thailand this year, down from 10.9 million in 2019. The drop could end up costing the country 3.3 trillion baht in missed revenues.
Vendors interviewed at Pratunam said they are also concerned about the risks of being infected with coronavirus from travelers. They said face masks were either sold out or available at a jacked up price, despite the government’s effort to control the price.
“It used to be 200 baht for a box of 50 [sanitary] masks. Now it has gone up to 900,” Sasiwan said.