Covid-related slump in tourism fuels contraction in Thailand’s economy

Thailand’s economy contracted at a 12.2% annual rate in the April-June quarter, its sharpest downturn since the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.

The data reflect a deterioration of business activity, with the country virtually closed to international travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The economy shrank 2% in the first quarter of the year, said the report on Monday by the National Economic and Social Development Council.

It showed investment, consumer spending and trade all contracted.

Farm output, also hurt by a drought, fell 3% while manufacturing declined 14.4%.

Thailand’s leaders are meanwhile grappling with a wave of student unrest.

Thailand Protests
Thailand Protests

Anti-government protesters gathered in large numbers in Thailand’s capital on Sunday for a rally that suggested their movement’s strength may extend beyond the college campuses where it had blossomed.

The protesters are demanding that the government hold new elections, amend the constitution and end intimidation of critics of the government.

While those grievances do not mention the economy, the demonstrations underscore public discontent with how the military-dominated government has handled the pandemic crisis, leaving many people with no way to feed themselves.

The government imposed strict controls on activity at the height of the coronavirus outbreak in the spring, including overnight curfews and bans on sales of alcohol.

That appears to have kept infections under control: confirmed cases totalled 3,377 as of Monday, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

There have been 58 deaths.

But the containment has come at a steep cost: the loss of millions of jobs and livelihoods for the many Thais who depend on foreign tourism.

Venders sell vegetables in a wet-market in Bangkok, Thailand (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)
Venders sell vegetables in a wet-market in Bangkok, Thailand (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)

Exports plunged 28% from a year earlier, while service exports, which include international travel, cratered by nearly 38%.

On a seasonally adjusted, quarterly basis, the Thai economy contracted 9.7% from the January-March quarter, when it shrank 2.5%.

It also logged a contraction in the last quarter of 2019, minus 0.3%, and thus has been in recession this year.

The economy is faring about as poorly as those of Thailand’s neighbours.

Last week, Malaysia reported a 13.2% contraction in its economy in the last quarter.

Singapore’s economy shrank 13.2% and the Philippines’ 16.5%.

For most, it has been the worst downturn since the Asian financial crisis struck with the collapse of the Thai baht in July 1997.