With Malaysian tourists becoming the first source market to reach 1 million and reopening of more countries in sight, Thai tourism could realise an even stronger rebound among the Asian market if e-visas are adopted and international flights resume, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Thanet Phetsuwan, TAT's deputy governor of marketing for Asia and South Pacific, said the strong growth will be buoyed by the full reopening of Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong in the final quarter this year.
More tourism demand will stimulate the number of flights and seat capacity, solving the lack of airplane seats which is a persistent obstacle for recovery at the moment.
This move will also help strengthen the short-haul market after Southeast Asia and India have led the recovery path in the first eight months, mainly attributed to the fast reopening and active resumption of international flights.
The highest growth was with the Malaysian market, particularly those coming through the border checkpoint in Songkhla which made up for more than 400,000 of the overall 1 million tourists from Malaysia.
The agency is planning to hold a celebration in Kuala Lumpur named "1 million thanks" to mark the milestone for the post-Covid recovery on Oct 21.
Mr Thanet said India could be the next market to hit the 1 million mark as more airlines are planning to add new routes to second-tier cities.
As of September, 561,656 tourists from India had visited Thailand.
The momentum is getting stronger in the final quarter as seen from the travel sentiment tracker conducted by India's Business Travel Trade agency which showed that Thailand was the top short-haul destination for holidaymakers at 66%.
"All Asian countries, except China, have resumed as seen from recent traffic to Thailand. Of 10 million international arrivals this year, around 6.5 million will come from the Asian region," he said.
However, another obstacle for tourists during this period is the inconvenient entry process, particularly visa application.
He said many tourists shared their thoughts with the TAT about the difficulties they faced reaching Thai embassies or consulates.
They have to opt for visas on arrival, regularly facing long queues at Thai airports.
"Tourists weren't worried about the visa fee, but they were more concerned about the inconvenient process," said Mr Thanet.
Thailand had been conducting a test run of the e-visa application in China before being disrupted by the pandemic.
He said if the country could restart the electronic application system soon, it would tremendously help create better momentum for the tourism industry.
Mr Thanet said this problem occurs in India as the country has a population of almost 1.4 billion, which is close to China's but still has far fewer embassies and consulates.
Chuwit Sirivajjakul, TAT's executive director of the East Asia region, said the greatest concern for Japan is higher airfares amid high demand from both Thai and Japanese travellers.
Airlines cannot prepare enough flights to catch up with high demand after the Japanese government announced full reopening from Oct 11.
"Around 50% of 460,000 existing seats in the fourth quarter is expected to be shared by Thai travellers. Japanese tourists have to buy more expensive tickets for more limited seats," said Mr Chuwit.
However, the agency has no worries about Taiwan and Hong Kong as airlines in those markets have already prepared flight resumption.
For Hong Kong, the TAT will offer joint promotional campaigns with Cathay Pacific, which plans to increase direct services to Thailand to 60 flights per month in November, after residents in Hong Kong are now exempt from hotel quarantine on their way back home.
Meanwhile, the agency is working with Taiwan's EVA Air and China Airlines to promote tourism after full reopening was set for Oct 13.