Two Japanese carriers -- Japan Airlines (JAL) and Peach Aviation -- plan to increase the number of flights they operate to satisfy demand among Thai tourists, while tourism operators expect Thais to seek new travel destinations.
The number of JAL passengers travelling between Thailand and Japan recovered to 70-80% of pre-Covid levels, said Kazuyuki Hijimoto, JAL vice-president and regional manager of Thailand, Indochina and South Asia.
Mr Hijimoto said JAL operates 3-4 direct flights daily and will increase the number to five daily during the summer schedule -- the same number operating prior to the pandemic.
He said airfares in the second quarter should not differ from the first quarter, when they were 20-30% more expensive than before the pandemic. More Thais are expected to travel to Japan to experience the spring season and sakura blossoms, said Mr Hijimoto.
A more challenging task is luring Thais to travel during the "summer" season, especially to Japan's northern regions such as Hokkaido or Tohoku, as well as encouraging Japanese people to travel abroad as many of them remain hesitant to venture out, he said.
Robert Thomas, sales manager at Peach Aviation, said the airline would operate a daily flight between Osaka and Bangkok from March 26. This would increase the airline's flights from six to seven flights per week.
This route was introduced last year, replacing the Okinawa-Bangkok route, as the airline's new aircraft -- an Airbus A321-LR -- has a longer range that can serve demand to Osaka, which is also a popular destination among Thais.
Thai passengers made up around two-thirds of the overall load factor, said Mr Thomas.
Mr Thomas also expected a notable recovery of Japanese passengers during the spring break.
Speaking at the Visit Japan FIT Fair, Kei Doi, executive director of the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), said the number of Thai tourists visiting Japan in December 2022 improved to 50% of the level recorded in 2019, while the number of airline seats has now recovered to 60% of pre-pandemic capacity.
Mrs Doi said the Thai market this year could reach 1.3 million -- the same level as 2019, even though there remains limited flight capacity and a manpower shortage across the tourism sector in Japan, including hotels, airports and bus companies.
She said 70% of Thai tourists were repeat visitors who mostly flocked to cities with direct flights, such as Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido and Fukuoka.
JNTO would like to encourage more of these tourists to visit secondary cities, such as Wakayama, Nagano or Oita, which are easily accessible from major cities that have international airports.
Takeshi Kawakami, section manager of the sales promotion department at Oita Prefectural Tourism Association, said an increasing number of Thai tourists had been visiting Oita. This stood at around 4,000 in December, up from 3,200 recorded during the same period before the pandemic.
Alisa Thaithatkul, marketing officer at Chill Chill Japan, a travel agent, said the firm is promoting new destinations to Thai tourists, such as Nagano, Gifu and Mie, combined with cities that are already popular, such as Osaka.
Meanwhile, tour packages are still 15-20% more expensive than they were before the pandemic.