Thailand’s tourism recovery four years away

BANGKOK, 28 September 2020: In Thailand, the tourism sector supported almost 20% of the national GDP last year, but the recovery could take four years to reach 2019 levels.

In the Oxford Economics’ central scenario, we do not see tourism spending recovering to 2019 levels until 2024. That means a THB4.8 trillion loss of visitor spending in Thailand’s economy compared with our pre-pandemic outlook.

For tourism providers in Thailand and across APAC, this is a devastating blow. Our modelling identifies 40 million “jobs at risk” in the wider APAC tourism sector. For workers and business owners in this sector, a return of tourism expenditure could not come soon enough. What is increasingly clear is that the rebuilding of the travel and tourism sector will be essential for the wider economic recovery of the region.

Airbnb’s role in Thailand, as part of the wider short-term rental sector, provides a useful example of how tourism spending manifests itself broadly around the economy. We recently worked with Airbnb to estimate its total economic impact across 13 APAC countries in the five years preceding the coronavirus travel disruption. This included detailed modelling of the direct economic impacts of the spending Airbnb facilitates and the indirect economic impacts it creates through supply chain effects and wage expenditure.

A little more than one-third of Airbnb’s total economic footprint in Thailand (worth around THB44 billion in 2019) can be attributed to this “direct impact” – that’s the value-added by businesses and workers in the first line of tourism activity: the bars and restaurants, retailers, and taxi drivers. The remainder is generated by the “indirect” value-added along the supply chains of these tourism providers and from the wage expenditure of those workers earning incomes from it. And these broader impacts fall widely across sectors and are spread widely across states and regions.

In Thailand, only one-quarter of Airbnb’s economic impact falls in Bangkok (Airbnb’s biggest local market in APAC). The lion’s share is distributed around second-tier and smaller tourism destinations, including those with no tourism footfall to speak of at all.

Similarly, the decline in tourism has not only been felt by the unfortunate staff and operators of those frontline tourism providers, but also in the transport, retail, manufacturing, and agricultural jobs that service this tourism demand indirectly. As our study for Airbnb highlights, there are more than 925,000 workers in APAC whose employment was supported by Airbnb-related tourism alone in 2019. More than half of these workers benefited through indirect impacts. They might not make the connection themselves, but their employment and prosperity are tied in part to the recovery and trajectory of the tourism sector.

So, how can recovery in travel and tourism be accelerated? When producing our forecasts, we tend to closely observe three core obstacles: physical travel restrictions, depressed economic conditions, and lasting impact the coronavirus will leave on traveller confidence. It is increasingly clear that the early revival of short-haul and domestic travel along safe and trusted, low-risk travel corridors will be crucial to recovery before a broader normalisation of tourism flows can be established in the years to come.

In many ways, platforms like Airbnb are well placed to help accelerate APAC’s tourism recovery. There are five reasons why:

1. Inspiring domestic trips: As households look to substitute long-haul for short-haul and international for domestic trips, platforms like Airbnb can help connect that demand with new and unique alternatives.

2. Supporting a youth-led recovery: The coronavirus has disproportionately affected older travellers in terms of health impacts and the willingness to travel. Young people will be critical to tourism’s recovery, particularly in the early stages, and the majority of Airbnb’s users under 30 years.

3.Rebuild international travel: Airbnb’s community model helps sustain traveller interest through the limited travel period, and therefore smooth and catalyse their return to the market once conditions normalise.

4. Leveraging analytics: With such a rapidly shifting landscape, agility in the current market is key. Hosts and travellers will benefit from the platform’s ability to respond quickly to the shifting trends and preferences.

5. Agility and flexibility: Early signs of travel recovery have indicated a shift in demand for travel destinations, compared with the pre-coronavirus norms. Anchoring accommodation supply too heavily to pre-coronavirus tourism infrastructure could therefore act as a drag on the recovery. Airbnb’s agile and flexibly collection of hosts can help facilitate the return of tourism spending more swiftly, and the wide range of jobs and incomes it supports.

In a post-pandemic world, a full recovery of the tourism industry will likely take time. There have been some encouraging signs of recovery in short-haul and domestic trips, but industry players across the board will need to do their part to deliver the sector’s broader revival. Platforms like Airbnb can play a pivotal role in supporting these efforts and reintroducing the many gains of tourism to the Thai economy.

(Source Oxford Economics: Opinion-editorial by James Lambert, Director of Economic Impact Consulting, Asia, and Aran Ryan, Director, Tourism Economics.)


  1. The whole world will be in the doldrums if the governments of All countries don’t get their act together. Only a communal plan with all countries working together will save us from the destruction of the economy.

  2. Tourism business and airline business are closest relevent, the IATA also predicts that the airline business also takes 5 years from now for recovery as it used to be before coronavirus(if my memory is right by reading from CNN news not long ago). Take care and try to be far from the risk.

    • TAT can say the country could achieve 20 million in 2021 after around 7 million in 2020. There is no reliable data or forecasting that would support that kind of wishful thinking when looking at 2021. We are entering the fourth quarter of 2020 and the reality is we will soon be reaching the one-year mark when Covid-19 hit world headlines. We all thought Covid-19 would be kicked out of play halfway through 2020. Now we are looking at 2024 for recovery close to 2019 performance levels.

    • Yes, four years from when all countries are cleared of covid19. This could be from end of next year.

  3. How can recovery in travel and tourism be accelerated? Open borders now under WTTC Safe Travel Guidelines. Border shutdowns are killing businesses and destroying family lives world-wide. Please SIGN & SHARE the petition to re-open borders safely strictly under WTTC guidelines.

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