Foreign tourists take snaps in Old Phuket Town. The island has seen positive signs of growth following the recent easing in travel restrictions. (Photo: Dusida Worrachaddejchai)
The tourism industry is finally seeing positive signs in terms of arrivals following the relaxation of entry rules, sparking hopes of a recovery.
Thailand welcomed 1.4 million tourists during the first five months of 2022, a significant increase on 427,869 arrivals recorded for the whole of last year, said Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Yuthasak Supasorn.
The agency is planning to hold discussions with airlines to restore international connectivity by August at the earliest.
Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, TAT deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, said direct routes via both scheduled and charter flights would play a vital role in creating more tourist arrivals, particularly from Russia.
Discussions with aviation-related agencies in Thailand and Russia as well as operators on the allocation of charter flights are underway for the peak season, which runs from October until February 2023.
“The final quarter is essential for the Russian market. If there are more flights and the war in Ukraine and economic sanctions subside, this market could reach 1 million arrivals, generating 8.4 billion baht,” Mr Chattan said.
The tourism goal for Europe, Africa and the Middle East has been set at 3.25 million visitors, contributing 260 billion baht, of which 100,000 tourists would come from Saudi Arabia generating 7 billion baht in revenue.
Another 750,000 tourists are expected from the Americas generating expenditure of 52.5 billion baht.
SHORT-HAUL OFFERS PROMISE
Thanet Phetsuwan, TAT deputy governor of marketing for Asia and the South Pacific, said the agency has applied a “quick win” strategy to attract travellers by increasing the resumption of flights and focusing on the corporate segment.
He said seat capacity from India recently returned to 30,000 seats per week, half the level recorded in 2019, prompting the TAT to push for more promotions.
The agency is partnering with the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau to bring incentive groups to Thailand as spending from this segment has not been affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.
Mr Thanet said cross-border tourism remains a key success for the industry, particularly from Malaysia, which could reach its target of a million visitors this year.
The Sadao immigration checkpoint is the most important channel for incentive groups from Malaysia, such as luxury car dealers, insurance firms or financial institutions, he said.
In August, a group of 300 Malaysians is planning to travel via tour buses to Betong to consume the popular “musang king” durian.
In the East Asia market, the TAT is preparing 40 charter flights from South Korea between July and September to Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok, as well as a roadshow to South Korea on July 16, followed by roadshows in Japan from July to September.
EASE OF TRAVEL
The TAT last week hosted Thailand Travel Mart Plus 2022 in Phuket to provide an update on its products and hold business appointments for local operators and international buyers.
After delaying their planned trips and travel budget during the pandemic, arrivals poured in as soon as tourism rules allowed them to travel, said Sunil Agrawal, Maharashtra Chapter president at Yashoda Tours and Travels Consultant.
He said Thailand is considered to be the best destination among Indian travellers, thanks to its food, hospitality and cheap services provided by destination management companies.
Famous beach destinations include Pattaya for the young generation and Phuket for honeymooners and families, said Mr Agrawal.
“The most important measure is the reimplementation of the fee waiver for visas on arrival so Indian tourists can benefit from a reduction in costs,” he said.
Shadi Jaraisy, chief executive of Via Nazareth Group, said the behaviour of tourists has not changed much, as Israeli tourists still want to travel to the southern part of Thailand, as seen since the reopening under the Phuket sandbox programme last July.
“Entry should be easier without the Thailand Pass system,” Mr Jaraisy said.
The government should also offer financial aid to tourism operators to enable a proper restart after facing a challenging two years, he said.
Virginie Gerbault, co-director of production at Asia Voyages, said Thailand has to remain competitive by shifting towards sustainable tourism instead of mass tourism, as French tourists are more concerned about sustainability following the pandemic.
He said the country should provide products that highlight local experiences in order to attract more tourists who want to enjoy authentic experiences.