news 4 days ago

Idle tour buses rack up costs

Bangkok Post, Thailand — Dusida Worrachaddejchai Bangkok Post, Thailand

March 26-- Mar. 26--Some 10,000 tour buses nationwide have been rendered idle as people practise social distancing and shun travel.

Jiradej Huayhongthong, vice-president of the Thai Transportation Operators Association, said most tour bus operators expect to maintain their businesses until the end of this month.

There are 6,000 tour buses in Bangkok and another 4,000 buses in provincial areas.

Since the pandemic broke out two months ago, most tour packages have been cancelled, both inbound and the domestic market.

Tour bus operators have fixed costs -- mainly salary and auto maintenance -- but financial aid has yet to arrive.

He said financial institutions need to relax regulations and allow operators easier access to soft loans.

"Neither SME Development Bank nor Government Savings Bank have offered easier access for operators. Showing three consecutive years of profit as banks require is impossible for us because this business needs a lot of investment in fleets," said Mr Jiradej.

Even for operators trying to sell their assets, there are no buyers, he said.

Normally tour buses are customised for tourism, making them difficult to use for other services such as cargo transport during tourism slowdowns.

In the past two years, the association has implemented a safety campaign to gain customer confidence and the number of accidents has decreased.

Every company wants to keep skilled, trained drivers, but many are struggling to stay in business, said Mr Jiradej.

Supply chains may continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic when tourism returns to normal levels as there may not be enough operators and drivers, he said.

Mr Jiradej, also executive director of Hongthong Group, which has 300 employees, said the company is struggling to stay afloat as long as possible.

He acknowledged Chinese tourists are preparing to travel abroad again in June. But Thailand needs to deal with the outbreak first before opening up to a new wave of tourists, said Mr Jiradej.

Kruawan Wongrukmit, chief executive of Nakhonchai Air, an inter-province bus company, said the number of bus passengers this month plummeted 20% year-on-year and some routes were down 30%.

After the government postponed Songkran, a lot of passengers cancelled their bookings or postponed their plans.

Mrs Kruawan said the government should consider measures such as reducing the fuel tax for public transport operators.

"When the country is back on track, the government has to come up with tourism stimulus plans to boost domestic tourism as well," she said.

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