Travel agents urge region to reopen

Travel agents urge region to reopen

Group says curbs on tourism need to end

People visit Sensoji Temple, a popular tourist location, in Tokyo on Oct 12. AFP
People visit Sensoji Temple, a popular tourist location, in Tokyo on Oct 12. AFP

Ongoing travel restrictions and entry requirements in some countries are the most critical obstacles to expanding the tourism sector, according to the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA).

Charoen Wangananont, president of TTAA, said Thai outbound tourism in the last two months of this year remains strong, despite concerns about an economic recession, particularly to destinations that have no travel restrictions.

For countries that allow inbound tourism but have maintained some requirements, the market feedback was slower than expected. He said one example is South Korea, which still requires tourists to receive pre-approval from the K-ETA registration system.

Hong Kong recently eased some activities for travellers visiting with tour operators, but it still requires a PCR test on arrival, said Mr Charoen.

He said the situation is different in Japan. Even though the seat capacity on flights to the country is only at 60% of pre-pandemic levels and airfares are extremely expensive, Thai tourists have continued to travel there since Japan's reopening in October.

Travel flow is expected to remain strong until next year's Songkran festival, said Mr Charoen.

"Packages to Japan accounted for 20% of total sales this year, becoming the top destination despite only reopening in October," he said.

"Tour operators have started to offer Songkran holiday packages in April 2023, of which 30-40% are already booked."

More Thai travellers are booking tours in Vietnam for the final quarter of the year, mainly attributed to the easing of travel rules, said Mr Charoen.

Vietnam also has many ports of entry for air travel and affordable prices.

Vietnam package sales have surpassed South Korea, which dropped to No.3 in the rankings, he said.

Mr Charoen said countries that want to promote tourism should consider lifting their remaining restrictions next year as many nations have proven providing seamless travel allows them to take better advantage of the travel boom than offering a half-hearted reopening.

He said if regional governments let tourists travel freely, with promotional campaigns to introduce unexplored destinations, tourist flows would be increased and countries that take part would benefit.

Last week, TTAA and Thai outbound tour operators joined a familiarisation trip to Saga and Nagasaki, cities on Japan's Kyushu Island.

Tour operators have been encouraged to sell more packages to those cities as they received only 60,000 tourists out of the 1.2 million Thais who visited Japan in 2019.

Mr Charoen said given strong support from the local government, the number of Thai tourists visiting Kyushu could increase to at least 100,000 over the next year.

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