Thailand has had a love affair with all things Korean for the past few years, and visitors from South Korea have been reciprocating, visiting the country in ever-growing numbers.
Travellers from South Korea are expected to generate 50 billion baht in revenue for Thailand this year, an increase of 20% from last year, according to Kasikorn Research Center.
The economy of South Korea is still more sluggish than many in Asia, but the number of its citizens travelling abroad is increasing. The Korea Tourism Organisation (KTO) forecasts 13.74 million South Koreans will travel overseas in 2013, increasing by 8.2% from 2012, with the most popular destinations being China, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand in that order.
Last year 1.17 million Koreans arrived in Thailand, accounting for 8% of all Koreans who travelled abroad for tourism. This year the number is expected to increase by 20% to 2 million, who will account for spending of 50 billion baht, up 20% from the 40 billion baht generated in the previous year, according to K-Reserach.
It said South Koreans have become a key tourism market for Thailand, ranking fifth behind visitors from China, Malaysia, Japan and Russia.
The number of Korean visitors to Thailand had slumped earlier due to domestic and overseas factors, but rose last year to surpass its 2006 record as Thailand enjoyed a year free of natural disasters and political unrest.
The growth of the low-cost airlines in Asia and direct flights from South Korean cities including Incheon, Busan and Daegu to Thai destinations such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket also contributed to the increase in arrivals.
At the end of 2012, tourism authorities of Thailand and South Korean held talks on a plan to increase the number of Korean tourists to Thailand between 4 million and 5 million per year, or about one-third of all Koreans travelling abroad. Under the plan, the Thai government will develop tourism websites in the Korean language, while South Korea will provide language training to Thai personnel. The media of the two countries will also exchange information on tourism.
According to K-Research, most Korean visitors to Thailand are considered general-interest tourists, although there are also those who come for specific activities such as honeymoons, golf and shopping. The average spending of the latter group, however, is several times higher than for general tourists, and the Thai industry should focus on these visitors in order to increase the country’s tourism revenue, said the centre.
Local administrations in Thailand, especially those in beach towns such as Phuket, Krabi, Phangnga and Samui, are looking to attract couples, partnering with hotels and resorts to offer promotions and create honeymoon destinations for South Koreans and others.
About 85% of the 250,000 to 260,000 South Korean newlywed couples each year will choose to honeymoon abroad, mostly at beach and island destinations. In Asia, they prefer Bali, the Maldives, and Thai destinations such as Phuket, Krabi and Samui, although the trend is moving toward more quiet and cheaper areas such as Khao Lak, Hua Hin, Pran Buri and Ban Krut.
The Thai tourism industry should also aim to promote repeat trips for married couples, or even families, who want to return to their honeymoon locations, said the centre.
Another promising segment is wealthy golf tourists, totalling 20 million in Asia, of whom only one million, or 5%, visit Thailand. However, about half of them are South Koreans, which may show that Thailand has to the potential to increase income from golfers, whose average spending is many times higher than that of general tourists.
The research centre points out that Thailand has more than 200 golf courses that are up to international standards, spread across all regions of the country, allowing the golfers to enjoy various locations year-round. In addition, Thai golf courses offer low prices and good services when compared to their counterparts in other countries.
South Korean golfers traditionally focus on locations in Bangkok and nearby provinces as well as Pattaya, but they are beginning to travel to Chiang Mai and the northern region due to direct and charter flights from South Korea to the northern city.
South Korean shoppers are another specialised group of tourists. Along with other Asian shoppers, they are attracted to leading shopping centres in Bangkok and major tourist attractions such as Phuket. Political stability and renovations of shopping centres are factors increasing the number of shopping tourists, said the centre.