Tour operators turn spiritual

Tour operators turn spiritual

Visitors pray during merit-making at Ai Khai Wat Chedi, Nakhon Si Thammarat. The statue of Ai Khai is a magnet to those who hope it will bless them with wealth and good luck. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
Visitors pray during merit-making at Ai Khai Wat Chedi, Nakhon Si Thammarat. The statue of Ai Khai is a magnet to those who hope it will bless them with wealth and good luck. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

As the economic slowdown and political turmoil are likely to persist, tour operators have found more travellers looking for spiritual tour packages.

Thanapol Cheewarattanaporn, president of the Association of Domestic Travel (ADT), said there has been a rise in demand for tour packages focusing on spiritual activities, including trips to famous temples to pray for better living conditions, more successful business and opportunities for new jobs.

Mr Thanapol said before the pandemic, there was a limited market for this type of tour and only a few companies provided them.

This segment expanded, as more people flocked to Wat Chedi in Nakhon Si Thammarat during the past few months, with most tour companies jumping into this market.

According to the Tourism and Sports Ministry, the average occupancy in Nakhon Si Thammarat ranked first in the country at 58.5% in September, higher than the nationwide average of 27.9%.

He said the growth of these tours helped create deeper benefits for local operators as the agencies in Bangkok hire operators on the ground who have expertise managing trips for customers, such as tour guides, and arranging accommodation and transport.

"The rise of spiritual tours is bringing more revenue to local operators than sightseeing tours," said Mr Thanapol.

"However, most of the travel is on weekends, leaving rooms empty on weekdays."

He said operators cannot completely count on spiritual tours as purchasing power for such tours is lower than normal.

The package sales rate in every category this year is only 40-50% of the previous year, said Mr Thanapol.

ADT vice-president Chotechuang Soorangura said spiritual or merit tours in Thailand became popular partly because of global lockdowns.

Prior to the outbreak, the target customer for this segment, those aged 40 and older, would take outbound trips to famous temples in Myanmar, Hong Kong and Taiwan to pray for personal wealth, jobs, or their businesses.

But after borders shut, they opted for local temples with strong reputations in granting wishes, with popularity driven by viral promotions, said Mr Chotechuang.

Operators are concerned about the future of spiritual tours as some popular attractions have started to record fewer guests, including in Nakhon Si Thammarat, he said.

"This kind of growth cannot help operators sustain their business as this trend may just come and go in a short period," said Mr Chotechuang.

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