As global tourism collapses, so does the orchid industry in top exporter Thailand, where the flowers are regarded as a symbol of hospitality.

Global demand for cut flowers, from Thai orchids to Dutch tulips and Kenyan roses, has plummeted as businesses and hotels shutter worldwide and consumers stay at home. Millions of orchids – used to decorate hotels and restaurants, and for celebrations and events – are being cut and thrown out every day because they can’t find a buyer, according to Sompong Thaveesuk, vice president of the Thai Orchids Garden Enterprise Association.

“There are barely any buyers, and even if we wanted to export flowers, we couldn’t do it because most of the passenger flights, which usually carry them, have been cancelled,” said Sompong, who estimated demand was down 95%.

Thailand exports more than half of all the orchids it grows in a global industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But it’s not just the exporters who are struggling. Demand from domestic buyers has also plunged because tourism, which normally contributes about a fifth of the economy, is at a standstill.

Thai orchid growers and exporters, employing some 50 000 workers, are just focusing now on keeping the farms going, while they wait for buyers to return. As coronavirus cases and deaths keeping rising across the globe, and lockdowns seem set to continue, that may be some way off.

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