About 800,000 people in Thailand have signed up to a scheme in which the government pays them to take domestic holidays.
With COVID-19 having driven away most of the 40 million foreign tourists who were expected to visit the country this year, the Thai government has been forced to get creative about how to revive the battered tourism industry.
Under the scheme, Thai holiday-makers are encouraged to book their holiday using a specific bank wallet app on their mobile phone to get free accommodation and airfares discounted by 40 per cent, the ABC reports.
They also get a daily spending allowance – around $25 on weekend days and $38 through the week – which they can spend as they please.
The Thai government has dedicated 10.8 million baht, or $473,000, to the scheme and it’s been welcomed by tourists and travel operators.
Restaurant owner Pornthip Aeng-chaun said her restaurant in the coastal town of Krabi, in southern Thailand, has already been filling up again.
“The campaign is very good for more customers to come to the restaurant,” she said.
“I think about 50 per cent more customers come here. I want the campaign to continue – if they don’t continue we can’t survive.”
Thailand is expecting its annual foreign tourist intake this year to be around 8 million – about 20 per cent of the usual figure – due to COVID-19 travel bans, lockdowns and self-funded quarantine for all international arrivals in the country.
Tourism represents about 15 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.
Jessica Vechbanyongratana, Assistant Professor of Economics at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told the ABC the tourism industry is in such poor shape it’s unlikely the subsidised travel scheme will bring it back to full steam.
“International tourism makes up about two-thirds of all tourism here in Thailand and even with the stimulus, domestic tourism is down from what it’s been before,” Dr Vechbanyongratana said.
“For some hotels and some restaurants, the program will help them to maintain at this minimum level, hopefully stay in business and just make it through the pandemic.”
In June, Thailand floated the idea of travel bubbles with other countries with low infection rates, including Australia, but by August it had backed away from the plan due to rising infections in parts of Asia.
“We are delaying discussion of travel bubble arrangements for now given the outbreak situation in other countries,” Thailand’s coronavirus task force spokesman, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, told Reuters last month.