Songkran travel prospects mediocre

Songkran travel prospects mediocre

Revellers splash about at the Songkran Festival on Khao San Road in 2023. The government recently extended this year's Songkran holiday to five days. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)
Revellers splash about at the Songkran Festival on Khao San Road in 2023. The government recently extended this year's Songkran holiday to five days. (Photo: Nutthawat Wichieanbut)

Outbound trips during the Songkran holiday will not be robust despite the extra day, attributed to costly airfares and concerns over deflation risk, while the 21-day "Water Festival" campaign is likely to attract more foreign tourists than the domestic market, according to travel agents.

"This holiday is no longer a high season for outbound trips as before the pandemic," said Kriangphon Piyaekchai, vice-president of the Thai Travel Agents Association.

Given high airfares as the aviation industry continues to recover, only travellers with high purchasing power can afford to travel during Songkran, with the remainder opting for domestic trips or waiting until the travel is cheaper, said Mr Kriangphon.

During the Songkran holiday, a five-day tour package to Japan starts from 40,000 baht, up from around 30,000 baht before the pandemic.

He said many Thai travellers were also worried about possible deflation, limiting their spending on tourism.

In addition, there are limited charter flights during the Songkran holiday to cater to outbound demand, compared with before 2019 when tour operators were keen to add charter flights, said Mr Kriangphon.

Though the government recently extended the Songkran holiday to five days, he said this measure will not help stimulate outbound trips as most travellers booked their trips months ago.

Most of the available outbound tour packages to Japan and South Korea are already booked, while bookings for Vietnam and China were filling up, said Mr Kriangphon. Thais tend to favour places with nature and cool weather such as Sapa in Vietnam, as well as Zhangjiajie and Nanchang in China, he said.

Mr Kriangphon said China tour packages should be buoyed by the mutual visa exemption, which allows Thai tourists to enter the mainland without a visa from March 1.

Chaiyapruk Thongkam, president of the Association of Domestic Travel, said 65% of Thai tourists are expected to travel domestically during Songkran, with half of them visiting their hometowns.

Mr Chaiyapruk said domestic tourists may extend their trips to 5-6 days, from the usual 3-4 days, which will benefit second-tier destinations. However, local tourists might not spend much despite longer stays, he said.

Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol said yesterday the ministry plans to ask the cabinet for a 100-million-baht budget to host the Maha Songkran World Water Festival 2024 in Bangkok and upcountry between April 11-15.

Mr Chaiyapruk said this event may not attract domestic tourists as much as foreigners.

He said the government should instead focus on developing attractions to help sustain tourism in the long run, such as solving the PM2.5 crisis in the North and Northeast, which discourages upcountry tourism.

The authorities should also consider supporting tour operators, especially those that have not recovered from the pandemic, said Mr Chaiyapruk.

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