Growth of anti-Westerner sentiment in Thailand amid Covid-19 crisis

Globaldata Travel and Tourism 14th April 2020 (Last Updated April 14th, 2020 12:53)
Growth of anti-Westerner sentiment in Thailand amid Covid-19 crisis

The growing frustration of the Thai population could have future negative consequences on tourism in the country

Despite being relatively unscathed by the Covid-19 pandemic compared to other popular destinations (only 27 casualties for 2,258 total confirmed cases to date), Thailand imposed a series of drastic measures to contain the virus.

With a significant number of foreign residents still in Thailand, the local population starts to put the blame for the epidemic on Western tourists. This could become an issue in the long term for the country, which welcomed 40.8 million foreign visitors in 2019.

Still a large number of foreigners in the country

Facing a rise in the number of Covid-19 cases and seeing the rapid deterioration of the situation in the rest of the world, Thailand declared a state of emergency at the end of March. This decision was later complemented by a border closure, a partial lockdown (notably in Phuket, one of the major tourist destinations) and even a curfew at night.

Nevertheless, a large number of foreign tourists who arrived before these restrictions are still stranded in the country due to long waiting times at the embassies to extend their visas or prohibitively expensive return tickets following the cancellation of their initial flight.

It was reported on popular local social media accounts that, despite the situation, a number of Western tourists carried on going out and visiting attractions and bypassing lockdown orders.

Tourists are being officially singled out

Frustrated by the restrictive measures implemented to slow down the spread of the pandemic, part of the local population is now taking it out on foreign tourists, blaming them for the alleged carefree attitude. A number of social media posts calling for violent actions against those tourists gained a fair amount of traction in the past few days, as the number of Covid-19 cases grows.

These publications echo the messages from the Thai Health Minister, who recently accused Westerners of being the reason why Thailand battles with the pandemic today by having brought it with them.

This anti-Westerner sentiment could portray a negative image of the country, which depends heavily on tourism. It represents 10% of Thailand’s GDP and it is the main source of revenues in some regions such as Pattaya and Phuket.

Should this sentiment last after the virus is contained, it could end up benefitting neighbouring destinations instead. Vietnam, for instance, has been trying to position itself as a tourism alternative to Thailand for years and could see the number of visitors boosted by its more welcoming attitude towards foreigners.