Get ready for visitor inrush, PM tells agencies

Get ready for visitor inrush, PM tells agencies

Call follows positive economic outlook

Foreign tourists get laid back at Patong Beach, Phuket. The government expects for influx of tourist arrivals this year thanks to improving economic conditions. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD
Foreign tourists get laid back at Patong Beach, Phuket. The government expects for influx of tourist arrivals this year thanks to improving economic conditions. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has ordered related agencies and the private sector to prepare for an anticipated influx of foreign visitors this year.

Gen Prayut cited several forecasting agencies, including Kasikorn Research Center (K-Research) and the Center for Economic and Business Forecasting of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC), which predict that the number of foreign tourists will surge this year from 32.6 million in 2016.

K-Research forecast foreign visitors will total 33.5-34.5 million this year, generating income of 1.76 trillion baht, up from 1.64 trillion last year.

"Overall positive conditions, from Thailand's economic prospects to the global economic recovery, will be a boon to global tourism, including Thailand," said Gen Prayut at the cabinet meeting last week. "We, the government and private sector alike, have to prepare for the influx of tourist arrivals, particularly in terms of infrastructure and related facilities."

The government has set its tourism revenue target at 2.71 trillion baht this year, an 8% rise from 2.51 trillion in 2016.

Foreign visitors are projected to generate 1.78 trillion baht in revenue, up 8.2% from 2016, with domestic tourists contributing 934 billion, up 7.5%.

The government is committed to increasing the number of quality visitors and generating more spending per person while raising the length of stay to nine and a half days from nine at present.

Average spending per person by foreign visitors stood at 5,200 baht last year, up from 5,100 in 2015.

Deputy Prime Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn, who chaired the recent meeting of the National Tourism Policy Committee, said the Tourism and Sports Ministry this year will work closely with the commerce, culture and interior ministries to organise tourism activities and promotions.

The Commerce Ministry has vowed to push for greater promotion of geographical indication (GI) and the One Tambon One Product (Otop) programme, while the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is mapping out tourism routes to those GI and Otop production locations.

The government is also committed to improving safety measures after a report by the World Economic Forum, which showed that Thailand ranks 132nd out of 141 countries for safety and security.

Thailand's safety ranking is worse than that of Lebanon, Mali, Burundi or Iran. Two years ago, Thailand ranked 87th in the biennial report.

Nonetheless, Thailand's travel and tourism competitiveness ranking climbed to 35th worldwide, up from 43rd two years ago.

The top factor that has helped Thailand become more competitive is its tourist service infrastructure, which in the report covers the number of hotel rooms, ATM or credit card acceptance and satisfied business travellers.

The next factor is price competitiveness, followed by the quality of the labour force, the prioritisation of travel and tourism (especially from government policy), and health and hygiene.

Meanwhile, the factors for which Thailand scored the lowest are cultural resources and business travel, measured by the total number of international association meetings, world heritage sites, large sports stadiums and cultural expressions.

The next factor is ground and port infrastructure, with the country getting poor ratings for railroad density, quality of railroad infrastructure and ground transport networks.

In a related development, TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said foreign tourist arrivals are estimated at 825,000 during the seven days of the Chinese New Year festival, which runs from Jan 27 to Feb 2. That figure is down 4% from the same period last year.

Revenue is forecast to grow by 10% to 19.1 billion baht.

Nonetheless, the number of Chinese visitors is expected to drop by 9% to 240,000, with revenue totalling 6.49 billion baht, down 4% year-on-year.

Mr Yuthasak said the arrival of Chinese visitors is believed to have bottomed out since November last year, when their numbers contracted by 31% thanks to the government's clampdown on zero-dollar tours.

He said Chinese passenger traffic from charter flights has yet to resume, although normal flights are fully-booked.

The latter group is also found to pay for tour packages priced 20% higher than normal ones, especially for travellers from Shanghai, who pay an average of 28,870 yuan (144,350 baht). They also reserve lodgings at premium hotels.

Mr Yuthasak said the TAT will soon consult with the Tourism and Sports Ministry, the Immigration Office and the Foreign Ministry to consider extending visa fee waivers for visitors from 19 countries.

The measure was implemented on Dec 1, 2016 and is due to expire on Feb 28.

Indian and Chinese visitors were found to have submitted the most applications for visa fee waivers.

The number of Indian visitors is expected to grow 10% this year to 1.18 million.

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