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Coronavirus: high-voltage tourism in Southeast Asia

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Empty hotels, deserted beaches, mass cancellations: Southeast Asia, particularly dependent on tourism, pays a high price for the coronavirus epidemic with losses estimated at several billion euros .

The atmosphere is gloomy in the seaside resort of Pattaya, one of the favorite destinations of the Chinese in Thailand: the seafront, usually so busy, has become depopulated, the tourist boats remain at the quay and the shops of the floating market looks gray.

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In the Chang Siam Park elephant camp, the city’s flagship attraction, Ma Mya, a souvenir seller, saw her income cut in half. “If this continues, I will have to go home,” sighs the young woman from the Kayan tribe, a long golden necklace with a spiral around her neck.

The park welcomed 1,500 to 2,000 visitors per day. “They are not more than 200 today, and I have already lost two million baht” (nearly 60,000 euros), told AFP Nontakorn Phatnamrob, owner of the camp.

In Cambodia, even the famous temples of Angkor are no longer making a profit: ticket sales have dropped by 30 to 40%, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The same is true in Vietnam: 13,000 hotel rooms have already been canceled in Hanoi and attendance at the country’s jewel, Halong Bay, has dropped by more than 60%.

To show that they have learned from the 2002/2003 SARS epidemic, Chinese authorities have taken drastic measures against the new coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 1,500 people and infected tens of thousands. .

Beijing has placed since the end of January 56 million inhabitants in quarantine and prohibits the whole population from organized trips abroad.

Result: Thailand, which welcomed 11 million Chinese last year (27% of all its foreign tourists), recorded in early February a drop in visitors to the Middle Kingdom by “more than 86%” , according to the Minister of Tourism, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.

In Vietnam, Chinese tourists have almost disappeared with a collapse of “90 to 100%” depending on the area.

The contagion spreads to Europeans, Americans or Australians who give up their trip for fear of the coronavirus, even if the latter is currently raging mainly in mainland China and that few people have been infected in Southeast Asia.

– Billions of euros in losses –

This unprecedented situation could prove catastrophic for the region’s economies, which are very dependent on tourism.

In Thailand, the sector represents 20% of GDP and losses linked to the epidemic should reach this year nearly 7.4 billion euros (1.5% of GDP), according to Don Nakornthab, senior official at the Central Bank Thai.

Vietnam estimates that it will lose between 5.4 and 7.1 billion euros over the next three months.

But what will happen if, as some specialists in the tourism industry fear, the effects will spread “in the long term until 2021”?

Aware of the risk, Thailand and Cambodia do not refuse Chinese tourists, contenting themselves with strengthening controls at airports and border crossings.

Thai authorities will even offer them free visas.

And Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen plays the VRP. Denouncing “the disease of fear”, he did everything to attract the good graces of Beijing, his close ally, and to bring the Chinese back to the kingdom.

The Vietnamese authorities want to be much more protectionist: they have banned flights to and from mainland China, and passenger trains have been stopped.

As for Laos, it closed its land border with China and several daily flights were canceled.

“Since then, we no longer see Chinese people and the situation is likely to get worse,” Ong Tau, a fruit juice seller in the former colonial city of Luang Prabang, told AFP.

Many travel agencies and hoteliers in the region are cutting prices and have extended their policies allowing their customers to postpone their stay free of charge, in order to mitigate cancellations.

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