Visa waiver, sports to lift Saudi travel
Thailand is hoping to boost tourism cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including offering visa exemptions and promoting Muay Thai after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Five sets of memoranda of understanding were signed last week by Thailand and Saudi Arabia at the Apec Economic Leaders' Meeting, with one of them aimed at promoting tourism between the two countries.
Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said a visa waiver for Thai tourists visiting Saudi Arabia was among the topics of discussion and the Thai government also wants a shorter waiting period for the application process.
In terms of tourism promotion, Thailand wants Saudi Arabia to help promote health and wellness tourism focused on its world-class medical services to its residents.
Thailand also proposed increasing the number of flights between Riyadh and Jeddah to Bangkok, as well as to Phuket.
For Phuket, year-round flights are preferable. If this is not possible, a focus on the high season from July to August is adequate to support this market, said Mr Phiphat.
In terms of sports, Thailand is interested in cooperating on e-sports as well as sending licensed Muay Thai trainers to help develop this sport in Saudi Arabia. Thailand wants to host a Muay Thai workshop in the country.
Mr Phiphat said earlier he urged Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to discuss lifting border controls with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the summit, allowing Chinese citizens to travel abroad, especially from the southern provinces.
However, he said there's little sign of progress from China and the topic was not included in the official agenda.
To offset the lack of a Chinese market, Thailand will continue to focus on other short-haul markets such as Malaysia, Singapore and Laos, as well as India, which has high demand to increase flights to Thailand.
According to the ministry, the number of tourists from northern Asia is gradually increasing, with Korean tourists averaging 20,000 per week, up from 15,000, Hongkongers tallying 8,700 per week, up from 4,000, and Taiwanese 5,000 per week, up from 2,000.
For the long-haul market, a busier winter flight schedule signals a recovery, said the ministry. The first direct flights in 10 years between Canada and Thailand are slated to start next month by Air Canada.