BANGKOK — The director of a major hotel chain in Thailand on Tuesday urged the government to reopen the country’s borders to international tourists under special travel agreements.
Hotels in the Minor Group are reopening under “New Normal” operations after being closed for months during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but its representative said the tourism and hospitality industries still need international tourists if they ever hope to recover.
“We really need a travel bubble in place to welcome international travelers,” Thomas Meier, the senior vice president of Minor Hotels’ Asian operations, said. “We can’t open some of our operations because the business is not there, because the location is for international travelers, or it’s a meeting hotel.”
“With no meetings, there’s no point to opening them,” he said at a news conference.
Minor Group owns hotels under the Anantara, Avani, Four Seasons, Marriott, and Radisson Blu brands, among others. According to Stock Market Exchange of Thailand, Minor Group was one of the hardest-hit hotel groups in Thailand, losing 1.7 billion baht in 2020’s first trimester.
Employees had to take leave without pay and of their 29 hotels and residences in Thailand, only three were able to open during the pandemic months, or about 10 percent.
Minor International’s shares (MINT) began the year trading at shares of 34.16 baht, before plummeting to 13.56 on March 24. As of Tuesday, they are trading at 19.10 baht.
“It’s not just the hotel, but tourism is linked to our suppliers as well,” Meier said. “So seafood, pain, shops that tourists shopped were either affected or shut down.”
At Minor’s hotels, amenities are sanitized to an unprecedented degree. Keycards, luggage, and even suitcase wheels are disinfected upon arrival. “Think of where those wheels have been,” Meier said.
Door handles and elevator buttons are covered with an antimicrobial copper film. After each guest room is cleaned, it’s left sealed for 24 hours, during which time staff are not allowed to enter. Buffets are replaced with a la carte food preparation. Guests are served food at their seats.
There’s also pickup service at the airport for the handful of travelers permitted under the current exemption. A contactless check-in procedure is in place to ensure physical distancing.
“The COVID pandemic is a new experience for anyone in business. Six months ago no one had any idea what to do,” Meier said. “I’m still learning. This was such a shock. We had to step back and adjust on a weekly basis.”
Minor Group is aiming to entice Thais and resident expats to visit their hotels, spas, and dinner cruises, usually frequented by foreign tourists. But their spending habit is still different from that of foreign tourists, a fact acknowledged by many tourism operators.
“Domestic tourists can go to places not far from Bangkok, but I don’t think they will go to Hua Hin every week for the next six months,” Meier said.
Under the so-called travel bubble agreement, Thailand will exchange tourism with countries where the coronavirus outbreak appears to be under control. Several nations were considered for the program, including South Korea and Japan, but no deal has been achieved so far.
The plan is also unlikely to be implemented any time soon, if at all. The top aviation regulator had expressed doubts over traveling during the ongoing global pandemic, and PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said today the discussion is on hold.