I write today, looking out across a white sand beach. It is as empty as the other beaches on the islands punctuating the horizon of calm blue sea, stretching out in front of me. It is the end of high season here in Thailand, but a high season like no other before. There have been no droves of tourists, no packed bars and restaurants. The tourism industry, like the resorts to the left and right of mine today, is closed.
Thailand has largely escaped the ravages of the virus itself. Despite having been the first country outside China to report cases on their soil. Even despite being perceived as somewhat slow to lockdown their borders, and never having actually locked down the population. Somehow, between being a society which enjoys wearing masks, and follows orders without question, and a daily temperature average above 30 degrees centigrade, the virus just never took a hold here.
What did have a profound effect, was the lack of inbound tourists. 2 years of forward bookings were cancelled in a matter of months, startup businesses closed, giving up precious dreams to bankruptcy. Long established companies let go of staff and sold off their assets to cover mounting redundancy costs. In the months following the outbreak, many expats returned home, leaving behind only those who could not, or chose not to leave.
Eventually, a new normal settled in. As Thailand's devastated tourist industry and all those connected to it, began to realise that they would have to adapt to survive. Those who could afford it, took this as an opportunity to refurbish and rethink their operations. Hotels and resorts hanging on with minimal staff, began to advertise at heavily discounted rates to local travellers. Thais and expats became keen to travel within the country, if they could not travel outside. Sports events were banned on and off, but sporting activities began to flourish, with cycling, running, fishing and sailing being just some of the open-air pastimes which were suddenly affordable, clean and available.
Thai people also began to adapt. To see tourism hotspots as not just reserved for wealthy foreign visitors, but wonderful treasures to be enjoyed and explored. With change, came a new respect for these places, and everywhere from National Parks, to beaches and restaurants began to clean up their acts and improve. The mask wearing waiters and high standards of hygiene have become the norm here, and will not go away soon. This necessity of standards began to leak across to all levels of establishments, a rising tide raising all ships.
Today, I know that travel will return soon. With the Thai Government's recent announcement of 'quarantine free travel' from October 2021, we can be confident that tourism will restart. Those intrepid early travellers will find however, that Thailand, and many of its neighbours have changed and very much for the better. I look forward to welcoming my family and friends back to rested, clean, white sand beaches and clear blue waters. To improved hotels and restaurants, with higher than ever standards of cleanliness and service. A region no longer sickened by overtourism, but respectful of its value and place.
We are waiting, and we wish you were here!