New province joins 1st-tier tourism ranks

Nakhon Si Thammarat to welcome 4m guests

Buddhists in Nakhon Si Thammarat flock to Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, the province's main temple, on Makha Bucha Day. (Photo by Nujaree Rakrun)

Nakhon Si Thammarat will not be second-tier anymore, as the province is set to receive some 4 million tourists this year, meeting first-tier province criteria set by the state.

The southern province will join 22 others as first-tier provinces, leaving behind 54 provinces in the second tier.

Reaching the top tier has assured the local administration it will receive more investment in infrastructure and can offer new tourism products.

Wirat Rakphan, the province's deputy governor, said the Airports Department has an expansion plan for Nakhon Si Thammarat airport's runways and terminal by 2022 to deal with an anticipated increase in international flights to support foreign visitor arrivals.

He said a new eight-kilometre road from Khao Phlai Dam in Sichon district to Thong Yee Bay in Khanom district will open this week to provide more convenient transport and attract tourists to experience the beautiful scenery of the Gulf of Thailand.

Nakhon Si Thammarat offers 320 hotels with 8,800 rooms, up from 310 hotels and 7,000 rooms last year. New hotels planned for the future include Centara Hotel Kiri Nakhon Si Thammarat, set to open next March.

Mr Wirat said cultural tourism is a trend in the province, as it is home to several religious heritage sites.

He said more youth are interested in this type of tourism, coming to pray for success in work and life.

In 2018, some 3.9 million tourists visited Nakhon Si Thammarat, over 80% of whom were domestic visitors. Half of the visitors were from the South, followed by Bangkok and other parts of the country.

In the first seven months this year, 2.5 million tourists visited the province, up 2.2% year-on-year, generating 11 billion baht in spending, up 5%.

Nithee Sriprae, executive director for the southern region at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said provinces in the South normally rely on foreign visitors, but Nakhon Si Thammarat attracts many domestic tourists to famous religious attractions.

Wat Chedi is one of the most popular sacred places in the province, attracting 3,000-4,000 visitors a day because of the myth of a child spirit who brings good fortune.

Mr Nithee expects more visitors in the last quarter to make merit and pray for prosperity in the upcoming year.

Suchart Chaiman, director of the provincial tourism and sports office in Nakhon Si Thammarat, said one of the biggest cultural events is the ongoing Festival of the Tenth Lunar, which runs until Oct 1.

The festival is expected to draw 1 million tourists, mainly locals and some 60,000 Thai-Malaysians, and generate 200 million baht in income.

Mr Suchart said the number of events in the province during the last four months rose by 40%.

The average daily spending for visitors is 5,000 baht in the South and 3,000 baht in Nakhon Si Thammarat.