COVID-19 is expected to be a very different affair this year as compared to 2019. Last year, the festival was cancelled completely as a lockdown was declared all over the country. This year, the government has announced the relaxation of restrictions, but it is likely that the contemporary celebrations of the Water Festival will remain a thing of the past for now.
Instead, authorities say, Songkran 2020 is expected to be more of a family affair with the threat of COVID-19 still hanging over the population and with consumer spending remaining an all-time low.
The University of the Thai Chamber Commerce claims that, out of 1,000 people that they have interviewed regarding their Songkran plans, a significant 26.5% said that they plan to celebrate the holiday quietly at home with family.
The University also said that there are a number of people who intend to go out and travel to tourist destinations, but more people are expressing intent to reduce their spending during Songkran this year.
While the UTCC’s outlook on the spirit of this year’s Songkran Festival, other members of the private sector as well as government officials overseeing tourism are more upbeat.
According to the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), the length of the holiday can combine with possible stimulus packages from the government in order to boost consumer spending for Thailand’s New Year.
However, FTI vice-chairman Kriengkrai Thiennukul said that the holiday could be less jubilant this year because of the government’s decision to still ban water-splashing activities.
Authorities in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, have ruled that it is still necessary to avoid “super spreaders,” or events which bring together a large number of people and increase the risk of passing on the virus to attendees.
Thus, Bangkok’s authorities have declared that water splashing, concerts and foam parties continue to be prohibited.
Mr, Kriengkrai said that the pandemic has given people more time off and, with almost a week-long holiday looming, people are still likely to spend more to celebrate Thailand’s biggest holiday.
“We still have a positive outlook,” the FTI vice-chairman said.
This year’s Songkran Festival extends to six days, or almost a week, due to the government’s decision to add one more day to the traditionally three-day festival. Instead of starting on April 13, the festival is now scheduled to begin on April 12 – a Monday.
Because it is preceded by a Saturday and a Sunday, the festival now lasts for six days.
Mr. Kriengkrai said that this is a good time to introduce new stimulus packages for tourism.
“Long holidays and economic stimulus packages are a good way to encourage people to spend,” he explained.
The government continues to offer the “We Travel Together” domestic tourism stimulus program, under which domestic travelers can enjoy a 40% discount on their hotel rooms and airline tickets. However, the scheme is expiring on April 30.
The government has still not announced an extension or a replacement, after government spokespersons revealed that the widespread fraud may result in the scheme ending when it is scheduled to.