BANGKOK: Thailand's economy is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2023, the central bank said on Monday, amid a slow recovery in tourism due to a surge in coronavirus infections.
The tourism-reliant nation, which is struggling with its biggest COVID-19 outbreak so far, is due to reopen the resort of Phuket to vaccinated foreign visitors on Thursday in a pilot project before a full reopening within 120 days.
The central bank will closely monitor the economic situation and is ready to implement measures as necessary, deputy governor Mathee Supapongse told a seminar.
Last week, the central bank cut its 2021 GDP growth to 1.8per cent from 3.0per cent and predicted only 700,00 foreign tourists this year. It forecast 3.9per cent GDP growth and 10 million foreign visitors next year.
Thailand started its mass vaccination drive earlier this month, but has had limited vaccine supply.
The country lost about US$50 billion in tourism revenue last year when foreign arrivals tumbled to 6.7 million from a record of nearly 40 million in 2019 due to strict entry requirements and global travel curbs.
The Tourism Council of Thailand, a private industry group, still predicts three million foreign arrivals this year, tied to the Phuket initiative and the reopening of nine other key tourist destinations in the final quarter of the year, vice president Vichit Prakobgoson told the seminar.
"But if the nine others can't be reopened and China has not allowed its people to travel, we will see only 500,000 tourists," he added.
The group expects 25 million foreign visitors to spend 1.5 trillion baht (US$47 billion) next year and the industry to normalise over the next two years, Vichit said, adding vaccinations and government support would be key.
(US$1 = 31.89 baht)
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Satawasin Staporncharnchai and Kitiphong Thaichareon; Editing by Ed Davies)