The business sector says Thailand's tourism has not reached its peak. Many say the complicated tourist visa application process, criminal activities and delays in the formation of the next government have discouraged tourists.
Chaiyapruk Thongkam, president of the Association of Domestic Travel, said a lull in the sector expected in the second half of this year would result in similar tourist numbers as H1, due to intractable factors such as natural disasters and unstable politics.
In terms of numbers, the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) found that during the first seven months of the year, Thailand welcomed 1,935,241 Chinese tourists. ATTA forecast the number of Chinese tourists might not reach the target of 5 million set for the year but rather reach 4.2-4.5 million Chinese visitors instead.
"The exhausting process of establishing a new government might be followed by protests. Plus, tourism agencies will have to rely on the next government to finalise the annual budget," Mr Chaiyapruk said.
"If the government comes together quickly, we will be able to prepare tourism campaigns for the country," he added. The number of domestic tourists at the moment is only 50-60% of the estimated total for the high season, running from October this year to April next year.
"If we were subsidised by the government, we would design programmes to take tourists to visit small or regional cities and offer guides for cross-provincial trips," Mr Chaiyapruk added.
Targeting short-haul tourists
The caretaker government has tried to attract long-haul tourists from Europe, the United States and the Middle East as they tend to stay longer and have more spending power.
Mr Chaiyapruk said that in his view, Thailand should focus on attracting more tourists from countries in Asia, such as Japan.
"We should focus more on countries where air travel is convenient, especially Japan. Thailand has yet to become a top destination for Japanese tourists so we should try penetrating their market," Mr Chaiyapruk said.
Meanwhile, domestic tourism has slowed due to demand for international flights. Air carriers are shifting their domestic planes to international routes to cater to foreign travellers.
When asked about the number of Chinese tourists after China reopened after Covid-19 earlier this year, Mr Chaiyapruk said the number of tourists from this source has fallen short of target.
One notable issue is that Chinese tourists find it hard to apply for Thai tourist visas. Many say visas on arrival take too much time and cost more than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Plus, immigration services at train stations along the Thai border are not fully functional, which costs Chinese tourists on high-speed trains both time and money. The trains now connect China and Laos.
As a result of these problems, many have switched to visiting Vietnam where the immigration process is less complicated and travel facilities more amenable, said Mr Chaiyapruk.
"The government should hold talks about visa exemptions under bilateral agreements. The policy should be loose enough to encourage international tourists to visit Thailand," he said.
Chaiyapruk Thongkam, president of the Association of Domestic Travel
On Aug 10, the government further relaxed its tourist visa requirements and shortened the standard time required for approving visas for Chinese visitors to make the process easier.
Under the new requirements, Chinese visitors are only required to submit just six documents along with their visa application.
These are their passport, three photos, an air ticket, a document showing where they are staying, a document certifying their permanent residence, and financial statements, says deputy government spokeswoman Rachada Dhnadirek.
This will also soon halve the application process to seven working days.
Islands still popular
Ratchaporn Poonsawat, chairman of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said most visitors to Koh Samui are from European countries and make up 80-90% of hotel occupancies.
He added that two full-moon parties will take place this month, which are likely to draw tourists to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan until September.
Ratchaporn: 'Safety still a concern'
Earlier this month, the shocking news of a Colombian plastic surgeon being murdered by his boyfriend put Koh Phangan in the spotlight again.
Mr Ratchaporn said the murder stemmed from personal issues between the couple and would not affect the overall tourism situation.
He said safety issues concern tourists more, such as ferry and pier safety standards and the risk of road accidents.
"Thailand is still ranked as one of the countries with the most road accidents and many tourists ignore traffic rules," said Mr Ratchaporn.
Locals and entrepreneurs in Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are aware of the importance of safety.
Mr Ratchaporn said the recent murder of the Colombian surgeon was quickly solved and police made sure the legal process was transparent.
Nonetheless, many are concerned that crime in Thailand will affect the country's tourism image.
Slowly but surely: People arrive at Suvarnabhumi airport which has recorded a steadily increasing number of international arrivals.
Ensuring tourist safety
Pol Lt Gen Sukhun Prommayon, commissioner of the Tourist Police Bureau, admitted that murders among foreign tourists in Thailand are difficult to prevent for they tend to be personal matters.
While street crimes still concern locals and tourists, the crime rate has dropped as police regularly patrol around popular tourist areas.
Police also work with local entrepreneurs to solve scams targeting foreign tourists. "I do not believe crimes in Thailand are pushing tourists away," Pol Lt Gen Sukhun said. He said vigilant civilians can help police learn about local crimes.
Pol Lt Gen Sukhun said the declining number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand might also be because of the Chinese economy and false information released to make tourists nervous.
"[Police] are working to battle fake news spreading among Chinese tourists who are interested in a holiday in Thailand.
"The news said they would be held hostage for a ransom or ripped off in scams where people have their organs harvested, which is just false," said Pol Lt Gen Sukhun.
Now the visa application process has eased, the number of Chinese travellers should increase by the end of this year, he predicted.
Sukhun: 'Fake news puts people off'