Tourist numbers set to rise

Tourist numbers set to rise

Kingdom to welcome 25m visitors this year

Tourist arrivals topped 12 million late last month and are on course to reaching 25 million by the end of the year, according to the government.

From the beginning of the year to June 25, tourist arrivals numbered 12.46 million, up 539% on the same period last year, said deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul.

The five countries with the biggest numbers of visitors to the kingdom this year are Malaysia (1.9 million), followed by China (1.3 million), Russia (784,428), South Korea (741,909) and India (732,523).

The big rise in tourist numbers corresponds to a steep increase in airport use reported by the Airports of Thailand from October last year, which marked the start of the current fiscal year.

The six busiest airports have been Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phuket and Hat Yai. They welcomed a combined 34.3 million during the October-May period, up a whopping 635% year on year.

The airports handled 202,700 international and domestic flights, 175% more than the same period in the previous year.

Steadily expanding tourist arrivals are providing an important catalyst for economic growth, she said, citing the Fiscal Policy Office.

In the last quarter of this year, the office expects foreign tourist arrivals will surpass 2 million a month as airlines add more flights to their winter schedules.

"Tourism represents a primary push for the growth of the economy for the rest of the year," Ms Traisuree said. The tourism revival helps make up for a volatile export sector.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has told state agencies to remove obstacles causing tourism setbacks, such as travel restrictions.

The premier is paying special interest to calls by tourism operators to streamline and hasten the granting of tourist visas, she said.

Gen Prayut was aware that improvements were being made through tighter cooperation between agencies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOF), the Tourism and Sports Ministry, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Royal Thai Police.

The government has set a target of welcoming 25 million tourists to the kingdom this year, with hopes of turning over 1.5 trillion baht in revenue.

The TAT has expressed confidence the target will be met as tourists from China are expected to jump to five million this year.

Later this month, the TAT and the MOF are working together to launch the Visa Pre-screening System (VPSS) to quicken the pace of visa applications for foreign tourists.

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said the tourist tax, originally to have been imposed on foreign visitors on June 1, has been postponed to January next year.

The tax -- 300 baht each for tourists who are arriving by air and 150 baht each for those coming in by land or boat -- will be considered by the new government.

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