Why is Thailand's economy growing slowly

Corona crisis in Thailand: The Thailand vacation still has to wait

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In his 30 years as a tailor in Thailand, Vikas Bhatla has already experienced a lot: opponents of the government who paralyzed the Bangkok airport for days, violently suppressed protests with many dead in the city center, military coups, meter-high floods and an entire country in the tsunami trauma. But the fact that there are no longer any holidaymakers on the famous tourist street Khaosan Road, where Bhatla normally sells his tailor-made suits, is a new experience even for the long-established entrepreneur.

Bhatla's shop is located between a disused McDonald's and a nightclub that hasn't danced in for weeks. In the past, masseuses and street food vendors vied for customers in front of his door. Now there is only an elderly man smoking a cigarette on a plastic chair. Almost all the shutters in the neighborhood are down. Bhatla is only in his shop because he has paperwork to do. He has to pay bills and transfer the rent. Fixed costs equivalent to around 8,500 euros are incurred every month. The businessman, who originally comes from India, no longer has any income: "I may be able to endure this for another two or three months," he says. "After that, it's over here."

The entrepreneur's worries about the future are shared by a large part of the country: Thailand's economy depends on income from the tourism business. But the Corona crisis is now putting the holiday destination on withdrawal. The international airports have been closed to foreign guests since the beginning of April. The country, which had almost 40 million tourists last year, has sealed itself off - out of concern about the virus pandemic. But in the face of growing social and economic problems, the question increasingly arises: How much longer can Thailand afford the caution?

500 million euros per day

It takes a quarter of an hour to walk from Khaosan Road to the Royal Palace, Bangkok's most important tourist attraction. On the way there is a striking number of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk. A few meters from the palace entrance, Mr. Banchai is waiting for passengers in his tuk tuk in the blazing sun. In the past, he easily earned 1,000 baht, the equivalent of around 30 euros a day, with the holidaymakers he took from one attraction to the next, he says. Now his three-wheeled vehicle stands still for most of the day. After a nine-hour working day, he takes stock: "Today I only had three trips - two times 60 baht, one time 80 baht." Banchai, who goes by the nickname Banana to his passengers, is 48 years old. He has a son who wants to study at university. "The money is just not enough for us in the back and front," he says.

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The fact that Thailand has apparently almost completely contained the corona virus within its national borders is not much help: After a lockdown of several weeks, normality is slowly returning to everyday life - shopping centers, parks and restaurants are open again. The fear of Covid-19 is diminishing in view of the low number of infections - in the past few weeks the authorities across the country reported fewer than ten new cases a day. According to official figures, only around 3,000 people have been infected so far. But all of this hardly helps the economy as long as there are still no holidaymakers.

The industry association WTTC estimated that around a fifth of Thailand's total economic output was recently directly and indirectly dependent on the travel business. Despite the great importance of tourism, the authorities do not want to risk opening the border for the time being because of the risk of a second wave of infections. Last weekend they extended the entry ban at the airports until at least the end of June.

This is why impatience is growing among company representatives. Dhanin Chearavanont warned - one of the richest men in the country, who owns the local offshoot of the supermarket chain 7-Eleven, among other things. "We can't wait for a vaccine to come out," he said in an interview. "The economy won't survive that long."