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Thai AirAsia seeks solid recovery plan

Foreign tourist arrivals at Suvarnabhumi airport on May 1 following the scrapping of the RT-PCR test requirement for vaccinated travellers. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

Thailand should draw up a long-term recovery plan for tourism as part of the national agenda instead of waiting for organic growth as the travel market remains stagnant, with lower demand than in previous years, according to the executive chairman of Thai AirAsia.

"International air traffic has gradually improved, but people obviously do not have the same travel habits. For instance, Singaporeans who visited Thailand on a weekly basis prior to the pandemic might travel just once every two or three months even as travel restrictions between the two countries were eased," said Tassapon Bijleveld of Thai AirAsia.

He said airfares for international flights are more expensive this year due to limited seat capacity and higher fuel costs.

Even though AirAsia X, a long-haul carrier in its network, has started selling popular routes to Japan and South Korea, the response has been quite lukewarm.

Travellers who refrained from taking trips abroad in the past two years may look for outbound destinations, but those who don't have deep pockets will likely make just one or two trips to save money.

Mr Tassapon said instead of introducing an untimely policy like the 300-baht levy on international arrivals, the government should prioritise a long-term recovery plan for the tourism industry, setting a clear target and seeking practical projects to achieve that goal.

"The prime minister has set a target of 20 million tourists next year, but we still don't see the mechanism to help achieve that goal. If Thailand is determined to lift tourism to the usual level of around 20% of GDP, we cannot just depend on organic growth without concerted effort as there are too many negative factors," he said.

Mr Tassapon said a concrete plan should involve all stakeholders, such as bringing famous international sports events or entertainment to fill a three-year calendar with a target to regain 40 million international tourists.

"Without a plan, it's hard for the tourism industry to be revived," he said.

Nok Air chief executive Wutthi-phum Jurangkool said his carrier still hasn't resumed international flights because the average load factor of existing flights from other airlines is still below 50%.

Amid soaring fuel prices of around 110% from January 2021 to April 2022, the airline had to utilise routes that have more solid demand, such as domestic flights, to avoid losses.

He said fuel costs account for almost 50% of total operational costs, up from 30% prior to the surge.

However, airlines cannot push additional expenditure on airfares as the competition in the market is still intense.

This situation has caused more airlines to abruptly cancel flights bearing losses and dampened confidence in the aviation industry.

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