Chiang Mai hoteliers damaged by air pollution
After suffering from haze blanketing several provinces in the North the past several months, hotel operators in Chiang Mai think it's unlikely their business will recover over the next few months.
Thick smoke from forest fires has led to a plunge in occupancy rates for hotels in the province, down from 80% typically to 75% in March and 60% in April, said La-Iad Bungsrithong, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA) northern chapter.
The decline was evident during Songkran, one of the most popular festivals celebrated in Chiang Mai.
Thais, who usually account for 60% of total visitors to Chiang Mai, were fewer in number relative to foreign visitors, including Chinese tourists, who continued to visit, Mrs La-Iad said.
Although the haze has improved after stricter preventive measures from the government, the low season has hoteliers in the North pessimistic.
"Hoteliers are pinning their hopes on robust tourism in July and August, which is the start of high season for the European and Chinese markets, as well as the school semester break in Thailand," Mrs La-Iad said.
Last year, 10.9 million foreign and Thai visitors travelled to Chiang Mai, resulting in an average hotel occupancy rate of 75%. The association estimates the rate this year at 70-72%.
Mrs La-Iad said 60,000 hotel keys are registered with the authorities. A further 8,000 rooms are available under the Airbnb platform.
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the THA, urged hotel operators to keep a close watch on external risks that could deter global travel.
"Unexpected incidents such as bombings in Sri Lanka may deter travellers or see them go to other places, and Thailand could be a choice," she said.
Thailand should provide safety measures for tourists when they are here, Mrs Supawan said.
The number of international arrivals in the first quarter this year expanded slowly, at just 1.47% for some 10.76 million visitors, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry. Tourism receipts during the period rose by 0.09% to 572 billion baht.
Despite the waiver of the 2,000-baht fee for visa on arrival for 21 nations, including China and India, the number of visitors from mainland China dipped 2.11% in the first quarter to 3.1 million from the same period last year.
Visitors from India shot up by 25% during the period to over 450,000.
The cabinet last week approved an extension of the visa-on-arrival fee exemption until the end of October this year.