In downtown Bangkok’s Patpong area, most evenings are quiet. Before the pandemic, it was one of the world’s most notorious red-light districts, attracting foreign tourists to its many bars, nightclubs, and massage parlors. With the tourism industry decimated by two years of Covid-19, most of the street’s businesses are locked, with “Closed” signs in the windows. At the area’s night bazaar—for decades the place to buy Red Bull T-shirts, Thai boxing pants, and fake Rolex watches—the vendors are gone.
Thailand wants to get them back. Tourism accounted for one-fifth of the country’s gross domestic product before the pandemic, with almost 40 million foreign tourists generating more than $60 billion in 2019. In early February, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s government began allowing vaccinated travelers to enter quarantine-free.