Thai workers in tourist destinations, including Pattaya and Hua Hin, are returning to their home provinces in droves, with many saying the ongoing uncertainty of the return of both domestic or international tourists, have left them with no work and little choice but to return home to seek family support.

The ‘returnees’ include hospitality staff, massage and wellness workers and even musicians.  With the ongoing closure of some worksites, restrictions on entertainment and serving alcohol, their livelihoods have evaporated and their financial circumstances become dire.

The Eastern Spa and Wellness Associations says 80% of massage shops in Pattaya have closed forever, with fewer than 100 still able to operate. Speaking to the Pattaya News, the association’s president, Chairat Ratananophas, says the remaining businesses need financial support and clarity on when they can re-open.

Currently, Covid-19 restrictions in some provinces mean massage shops, spas, saunas, and other wellness venues have been closed for nearly 2 months. Chairat says that prior to the pandemic, there were around 400 licenced massage shops and spas in Pattaya. There are now fewer than 100, but he says some of the ones considered permanently shut could still return – if the tourists do.

In late 2020, massage shops were getting some business from domestic tourists and local expats. However, this year’s resurgence of Covid-19 and domestic travel falling away has resulted in many forced closures as the final nail in the coffin for many owners and staff, who’ve had no choice but to give up and return to their home provinces.

According to Chairat, many still have faith that once tourists return, this will improve significantly, particularly once vaccinated foreign tourists can enter without quarantine. However, he says that until then, businesses need urgent help to ensure they’re still around to serve visiting tourists.

He is calling on the government to provide clarity on how long the current closures might last, and a roadmap out of the restrictions. In addition, businesses and their workers need financial support, which Chairat says has been insufficient to date. Finally, he wants a clear timetable for the return of foreign tourists, including prioritising wellness and hospitality employees for vaccination against Covid-19.

In Hua Hin around 25% of the city’s massage shops have remained open, but it has not been unusual for daily customer numbers to be less than the number of workers.  Bar staff have no venues open to find work and restaurants remaining open are only retaining skeleton staff numbers, with just a faint hope that this may change before October at the earliest.

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