The Philippines’ “fierce” competition with Thailand in the tourism sector might have triggered the latter’s newspaper headline that branded the country as the “Land of COVID-19,” Malacañang said Wednesday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque claimed that Thailand was struggling to attract tourists following the adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the travel industry.
Roque raised suspicion about Thailand’s motive a day after harping on the neighbor’s restrictions on free speech and media freedom for the controversial newspaper headline.
“There is also no way we can control what our neighbors say but do not forget that we are fierce competitors with Thailand when it comes to tourism,” he said over CNN Philippines Wednesday.
“So I’m sure their statement that we are the land of COVID is also motivated by the fact that they are struggling to invite people to come visit Thailand again,” he added.
Roque pointed out that Thailand may incur bigger losses in the tourism sector that has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the lucrative travel industry, the Philippines attracted more than eight million foreign tourists last year.
Thailand, on the other hand, previously recorded 40 million in foreign tourist numbers.
“Of course, they’re worse off in so far as they have a bigger tourism industry than us so that’s the context by which we should listen to this comment coming from our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors,” he said.
“We are the closest of friends but we’re also the closest competitors as far as economic interests are concerned because we’re dealing with the same commodities, and in the case of Thailand, it’s tourism in particular,” he added.
On Tuesday, Roque said that the Thai newspaper took a swipe at the country’s coronavirus situation since it cannot criticize its own efforts due to restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press.
Roque instead called for understanding given Thailand’s situation. He said the “Land of COVID-19” headline should simply be regarded as part of the “free market of ideas.”
The Thai Rath newspaper recently published a story calling the Philippines the “land of COVID-19” in relation to the return of over a hundred Filipino teachers there.
The Philippines’ total cases of coronavirus have increased to 139,538, the highest among Southeast Asian nations. Thailand has recorded fewer cases of infections at 3,351.