© Reuters. Thailand’s Central Bank Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Bank of Thailand in Bangkok


BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s central bank chief said on Monday it would take several years for foreign tourist numbers to return to the 40 million a year level, with the coronavirus pandemic hitting a lucrative industry that provides a lot of jobs.

The Bank of Thailand (BOT) expects only 8 million foreign visitors this year, down 80% from a record 39.8 million last year, when foreign receipts accounted for 11.4% of GDP.

The central bank has forecast Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy will shrink by a record 8.1%, with bottom seen in the second quarter, Governor Veerathai Santiprabhob told a seminar.

“It will take about two years for the economy to return to the levels before COVID-19,” he said. “It will be a long check mark recovery”.

The most worrying issue is employment, particularly in the service and manufacturing sector, Veerathai said.

Recent weakness in the baht has been driven by capital outflows on economic and political concerns, Veerathai said, adding the currency would remain volatile.

The baht traded at 31.78 per U.S. dollar at 0540 GMT, around its lowest level in more than seven weeks.

However, fund outflows are not a worry as the country’s external positions remain strong, with current account surpluses and low foreign debt, he said, adding the baht would remain

He also said bad loans in the country would rise but new steps should prevent them from surging.

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