Achiraya Thamparipattra grew up in a family rooted in tourism, so it’s no surprise she set up her own tourism company in her home country of Thailand.
Thamparipattra is the co-founder of HiveSters, a social enterprise based in Bangkok that aims to help Thai culture flourish, by empowering local masters to share their culture with individual travelers or large groups.
“HiveSters works like a beehive, a network of culture heroes that works together to help preserve local culture from the inside out and from the outside in,” she said.
Like many in the tourist industry, Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll on HiveSters, but a shift to domestic tourism and a recent announcement from the Thai government on a special tourist visa (STV) means the future for tourism might not be as grim as first expected.
Pre-Covid, Thamparipattra said 80 percent of HiveSters clients were foreigners, many of which were part of corporate groups. The rest were domestic – a mix of Thais and expats.
“When Covid happened, inbound tourism bookings for 2020 were all canceled and it was very shocking for us,” she said.
Her team at HiveSters had to reorganise their whole strategy to overcome an 80 percent loss. Thamparipattra said they adjusted to target the domestic travel market, develop new products, and work on Covid-19 safety protocols with their team and also with the Thai communities they work with.
In January 2020, Thailand was the first country to confirm a Covid-19 case outside of China. The virus spread quickly, peaking in March with a spike of 188 cases confirmed in one day.
On March 26, the government evoked an emergency decree to give itself the power to impose lockdowns and curfews to stop the spread. The measures were successful, and Thailand has been hailed as a ’success story’ by the World Health Organisation, alongside New Zealand. Most cases it sees now are caught at the border, and while community transmission was reported in early September, further cases have been kept under control.
Under strict border controls, Thamparipattra has seen an increase in domestic tourism – not enough to compensate for the loss of inbound tourism, but at the same time, she sees a focus on domestic tourism as a way to expand into new markets and strengthen their operations.
“It’s quite a radical adjustment,” Thamparipattra said.
In 2019, almost 40 million tourists visited Thailand and the country was initially considered as being at high risk of an outbreak, in part due to the increasing amount of Chinese mainland tourists the country had seen over recent years. Travel in and out of the country has been limited in the months since the outbreak.
However, the introduction of a new STV in Thailand may help ease some of the pressure. Approved by the Thai Cabinet in mid-September, the visa is aimed at long-term visitors to the country and allows them to stay for 90 days, with the option to extend that to 270 days.
On September 21, the Bangkok Post reported that overseas offices under the Tourism Authority of Thailand had already received a number of calls and enquiries about the long-term visa. The visa scheme is yet to be officially announced by the Immigration Bureau but is expected to be in place in the next couple of months.
Thamparipattra is hopeful it will open a path for more inbound tourism, especially as the traditional busy season approaches.
“I think it’s quite a mixed feeling at the moment [in the tourism industry],” she said, “Of course there’s a sadness of the big hit and the loss in the tourism industry – large number of tourism businesses have closed down; people are being laid off. Yet we are still hopeful of the future. We hope there will be an open for international travel soon.”
This article was initially published at asiamediacentre