Vikas Bhatla has experienced a lot in his 30 years as a tailor in Thailand: opponents of the government that paralyzed the Bangkok airport for days, violently suppressed protests with many deaths in the city center, military coups, meter-high floods and an entire country in the tsunami trauma. But the fact that there are no longer any tourists on the famous tourist street, Khaosan Road, where Bhatla normally sells his tailor-made suits, is also a new experience for the long-established entrepreneur.
Bhatla's shop is located between a closed McDonald's and a nightclub that hasn't had any dancing in weeks. In the past, masseuses and street food vendors courted for customers at his door. Now there is only an older man smoking a cigarette in a plastic chair. Almost all roller shutters in the neighborhood are lowered. Bhatla is also only in his shop because he has paperwork to do. He has to pay bills and transfer the rent. The equivalent of around 8,500 euros is incurred every month in fixed costs. The businessman, who originally comes from India, no longer has any income: "I can maybe take two or three months," he says. "After that it's over here."
The entrepreneur's concerns about the future are shared by a large part of the country: Thailand's economy depends on the income from the tourism business. But the corona crisis is now withdrawing the holiday destination. The international airports have been closed to foreign guests since the beginning of April. The country, which last year counted almost 40 million tourists, has sealed itself off - out of concern for the virus pandemic. However, in view of growing social and economic problems, the question arises: How long can Thailand continue to exercise caution?
500 million euros a day
It takes a quarter of an hour to walk from Khaosan Road to the Royal Palace, Bangkok's main tourist attraction. On the way you can see a lot of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk. A few meters from the palace entrance, Mr. Banchai is waiting for passengers in the blazing sun with his tuk tuk. In the past, he easily earned 1,000 baht, the equivalent of around 30 euros a day, with the holidaymakers he brought from one attraction to the next, he says. Now his three-wheeled vehicle stands still almost all day. After a working day of just nine hours, he takes stock: "Today I only had three trips - twice 60 baht, once 80 baht." Banchai, who introduces himself to his passengers with the nickname Banana, is 48 years old. He has a son who wants to study at the university. "The money just isn't enough for us in the back and in the front," he says.
The fact that Thailand has apparently almost completely contained the corona virus within the country's borders is not of much help: although after a lock-up lasting several weeks, normality is slowly returning to everyday life - shopping centers, parks and restaurants are reopening. Fear of Covid-19 is waning given the low number of infections - in the past few weeks, authorities across the country have reported fewer than ten new cases daily. In total, only about 3,000 people have been infected by postofficial figures. But that hardly helps the economy as long as vacationers are still missing.
Around a fifth of Thailand's total economic output has recently depended directly and indirectly on the travel business, the industry association WTTC estimated. Despite the great importance of tourism, the authorities do not want to risk opening the border for now because of the risk of a second wave of infections. They extended the entry ban at the airports last weekend until at least the end of June.
The impatience is growing among company representatives. Dhanin Chearavanont - one of the richest men in the country, who, among other things, owns the local branch of the supermarket chain 7-Eleven, warned that the land would cost the equivalent of almost 500 million euros every day the borders were closed. "We cannot wait until there is a vaccine," he said in an interview. "The economy won't survive that long."