Tourism target seen as ambitious
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Tourism target seen as ambitious

Goal of 40m foreign arrivals a challenge

A crowd of tourists visiting the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A crowd of tourists visiting the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Tourism operators see the government's goal of 40 million foreign arrivals as a challenge, considering high travel expenses, sluggish demand in populous markets such as China and Russia, and competition from neighbouring countries.

Thanet Supornsahasrungsi, president of the Association of Chonburi Tourism Federation, said a stagnant Chinese market contributed only 3.5 million tourists last year, compared with almost 10 million in 2019.

Thailand tallied roughly 28 million foreign tourists in 2023 and 1.2 trillion baht in revenue, well short of the records of almost 40 million arrivals and 1.9 trillion baht in revenue in 2019.

The country should rethink its China strategy, as potential travellers there have low confidence in Thailand's safety and are struggling with a sluggish economy, said Mr Thanet.

He said the number of Russian tourists at 1.48 million might near the level in 2019, but the future trend is worrying as many Russia-based flight operators are struggling to lease more jets for their fleets amid geopolitical conflicts.

The government should entice more Thai airlines to operate direct flights to Russia instead, said Mr Thanet.

There are also unavoidable external factors, such as high fuel prices, which affect airfares globally and discourage people from travelling abroad, while post-pandemic pent-up demand should dry up soon, he said.

Prachoom Tantiprasertsuk, chair of marketing at the Thai Hotels Association and vice-president of the Thailand Incentive and Convention Association, said to reach the ambitious target, the country should prioritise high-value segments, especially Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions).

Ms Prachoom said Mice groups tend to stay longer after finishing their business.

Thailand should promote a combined package between major hubs and nearby secondary provinces, luring these travellers to explore other destinations, she said.

In addition, a shift to the Indian market could offset the large Chinese tour group segment as the nation already surpassed China as the world's most populous, said Ms Prachoom.

The Indian market spans various tiers, from budget tour groups to high-end luxury weddings and corporate meetings.

Regarding competition in the region, Vietnam has been gaining because of its affordable prices, attracting large tour groups, especially from South Korea, said Mr Thanet.

The Philippines also resumed international revenue to its pre-pandemic level in 2023.

"It will take more time for us to return to the 2019 peak," he said.

Ms Prachoom said despite intense competition in Southeast Asia, she believes Thailand is still a top destination for foreign tourists, especially for frequent guests, with a wide choice of travel destinations, and safer and more convenient access than in Vietnam and the Philippines.

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