Thais' holidays to Japan unshaken by disease fear
While Thai tour operators are reeling from cancelled group tours to China and Hong Kong because of the coronavirus, advanced bookings to Japan for holidays remain solid, topping all destinations.
The growth of the enduring favourite destination for Thais has been strengthened by Thai airlines fleeing the mainland for Japan.
Chotechuang Soorangura, associate managing director of NS Travel & Tours and a committee member of the Thai Travel Agents Association, said public concerns about the deadly virus will weigh on decisions to book a trip abroad, especially to the destination where the epidemic started and nearby countries.
The company reported 100% cancellations from groups to China and Hong Kong, which accounted for 15% of the total incentive groups.
The Hong Kong market has suffered since a series of protests emerged last year, but the indefinite closure of the landmark Hong Kong Disneyland because of the deadly virus has made the situation more dire.
Mr Chotechuang said outbound tour operators have to offer alternative routes. The best opportunity is in domestic tourism, as hotels and restaurants are offering promotions to local groups with the hopes of offsetting the loss in Chinese tourists.
He said advanced bookings for Songkran in April are continuing, with Japan the top destination for Thai tourists.
"People will continue to travel abroad," he said. "We see the demand for Japan is quite strong, contributing around 40% of total outbound packages. April slots were fully booked and we're preparing to add more packages."
The Japan National Tourism Organisation reported that 1.15 million Thai tourists visited Japan last year in the first 11 months. This year, the Japanese government aims to secure 40 million travellers as it hosts the Olympic Games.
Apart from basic tour packages to Tokyo or Osaka, the opening of new routes to Japan from local carriers that cover flights to Sendai operated by Thai Airways and Hiroshima by Nok Air is the key driver for robust tourism demand.
Thai AirAsia is ready to fly new aircraft to Fukuoka, Okinawa and Hiroshima during the Chinese market slowdown.
"Most Thais who visit Japan decide not to purchase travel insurance, as they're confident about the high standards of health and safety," Mr Chotechuang said.
If the coronavirus infection rate in Japan surges, the selling rate of travel insurance could be higher because Thai tourists tend to buy more travel insurance when travelling to the Philippines and Vietnam.