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BANGKOK - Thailand has lost about 1.45 million tourism jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, including 400,000 in the first quarter, a private tourism group said on Monday, as the country gets ready to reopen to visitors to try to rescue the struggling sector,
Tourism is a key driver of Thailand's growth, typically accounting for 11-12% of gross domestic product. The group says there were 4.5 million tourism jobs before the pandemic, from a workforce of about 38 million people.
The country could see 3 million foreign tourist arrivals this year under plans to waive quarantine for visitors vaccinated against COVID-19 in some parts of the country later this year, Vichit Prakobgoson, vice president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, told a briefing.
From July, inoculated tourists will be allowed to visit Phuket without the mandatory two-week quarantine, and from October Pattaya, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, Phang Nga and Krabi.
The projection is in line with the central bank's estimate but far below the 6.5 million tourists projected by the government's Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
"The TAT's target this year definitely won't be met. From our work plans, there should be 3 million," Vichit said.
"But if Bangkok is included in the reopening, it's possible to have 6 million people," he added.
Thailand's strict entry requirements have helped keep coronavirus infections relatively low, but have devastated tourism.
Last year, there were only 6.7 million foreign tourists, down from nearly 40 million in 2019 who spent 1.91 trillion baht ($61.24 billion).
Vichit projected spending by foreign tourists would be 156 billion baht ($5 billion) this year.
For Phuket alone, the group expects two million foreign visitors to spend 105 billion baht between July and December, he said.
The tourism council had urged the government to start travel bubbles from April with other countries and to issue clear guidelines for "vaccine passports" to attract more travellers, he said.
($1 = 31.19 baht) REUTERS