Thailand shelves ‘travel bubble’ plan amid virus spike

Thailand continues to ease pandemic restrictions as the country attempts to revive its battered economy. (AFP)
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Updated 07 August 2020

Thailand shelves ‘travel bubble’ plan amid virus spike

  • Thailand had a record 39.8 million tourists in all of 2019, spending 1.93 trillion baht

BANGKOK: Thailand has delayed plans for a “travel bubble” agreement with select countries as new daily coronavirus cases rise in parts of Asia, putting pressure on its vital tourism industry and complicating efforts to revive its battered economy.

Thailand first proposed the idea in June to allow movement between select countries that have low infection numbers, without the need for travelers to undergo quarantine.

But that has been shelved, officials said, amid second and third waves in East Asian countries that previously had their outbreaks under control.

“We are delaying discussion of travel bubble arrangements for now given the outbreak situation in other countries,” Thailand’s coronavirus taskforce spokesman, Taweesin Wisanuyothin, told Reuters.

Despite more than two months without confirmed local transmission and recording only 3,300 cases, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is facing its worst crisis in several decades.

Foreign arrivals plunged 66 percent in the first six months of the year, to 6.69 million. The industry has warned that at least 1.6 trillion baht ($51.5 billion) of revenue could be wiped from the Thai economy this year.

By comparison, Thailand had a record 39.8 million tourists in all of 2019, spending 1.93 trillion baht.

“Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea were among those considered (for a travel bubble) because those areas had a low number of cases, but now they were in double-digits so discussions were put on hold,” Taweesin said, referring to new daily infections.

Reviving talks would depend on the situation in each country, which the taskforce was assessing daily, he said, adding that was a widely accepted industry view.

The island of Phuket has instead proposed receiving direct flights from those countries, with tourists and business executives doing two-week quarantines in their hotels before going out.

“We are asking for travel, charter flights, into Phuket,” Phuket Tourist Association President Bhummikitti Ruktaengam, told Reuters.

Although demand for long stays would be lower, it would be a start, with occupancy of 40 percent to 50 percent sufficient for hotels to survive and avert job losses, Bhummikitti added. 


Saudi PIF seeks investment flexibility with $5 billion-plus loan

Updated 7 min 23 sec ago

Saudi PIF seeks investment flexibility with $5 billion-plus loan

  • The loan finances are for use if and when the fund identifies investment opportunities 
  • PIF  is at the heart of the Kingdom’s strategy of economic diversification under its Vision 2030 reform plan

DUBAI: The Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is in talks with bankers to raise a loan of between $5 billion (SR18.75 billion) and $7 billion to provide flexibility in its investment strategy.

The PIF has declined to comment on reports of the loan, said to be in the form of a revolving facility from a number of international banks, but sources said it was part of the fund’s regular financing arrangements, which have seen it take out and repay facilities for the past two years.

The loan finances are for use if and when the fund identifies investment opportunities and may not necessarily be used.

The PIF has been opportunistic during the coronavirus pandemic in identifying what it saw as undervalued assets on global stock markets and has been an active trader in securities on international markets.

The fund invested $7 billion in mainly US stocks in the first quarter of the year, when markets were first impacted by pandemic lockdowns, and increased and diversified that in the second quarter. It scaled back its commitments in the third quarter when asset values were near all-time highs. In the summer, it spent $1.5 billion to acquire a stake in the Indian digital business Jio Platforms.

PIF, under governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, is at the heart of the Kingdom’s strategy of economic diversification under its Vision 2030 reform plan, while simultaneously building an international portfolio of assets.

Earlier this year, PIF repaid a $10 billion syndicated loan ahead of schedule after it completed the sale of its stake in SABIC to Saudi Aramco, and in 2018 it raised an $11 billion term-loan facility from international banks.

Previous fundraisings were done in partnership with a group of 10 banks from the US, Europe, and Asia that form part of the fund’s “core banking relationships.”