The Tourism Authority of Thailand estimates that nearly 2 million Indians visited Thailand in 2019, which marks a 24.85% increase over 2018 figures, Mr Lalvani recently explained to The Phuket News.
“The strong Thai baht, and many other outside factors, including the US-China trade war and the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus have led to a decrease in Thailand’s overall tourism numbers, with the number of Chinese tourists taking a particularly big hit. Indian numbers, however, continue to grow,” Mr Lalvani said.
“This surge of Indian tourists has been of particular help to Phuket. Indian arrivals to Phuket in 2019 grew year-over-year by 298%, due largely to the launch of GoAir direct flights from Bengaluru, Delhi, and Mumbai in October 2018,” he added.
According to a January 2020 report from C9 Hotelworks, total year-on-year arrivals to Phuket in 2019 declined by 4% in Q1 and 7% in Q2. The numbers of travellers from Europe and Australia shrank, while Chinese arrivals declined year-over-year by 9%.
“However, passenger arrivals balanced out over the third and fourth quarters of 2019 – growing by 3% and 8% respectively. This resurgence of tourism numbers was buoyed by growing demand from the Asian markets of Malaysia, Singapore and, most notably, India,” Mr Lalvani said.
Middle-class Indian tourists have been providing a much-needed boost for Phuket’s mid-range resorts and Food & Beverage outlets, Mr Lalvani added.
Wealthier Indian travellers have been flocking to Phuket for weddings, incentive trips, and high-end events, such as the Thailand Yacht Show, which was held this year at Royal Phuket Marina on Jan 9-12. Over the course of the four-day event, many Indian attendees bought boats, taking advantage of Thailand’s 0% tax on the purchase of yachts, Mr Lalvani noted.
“India has a population of over 1.3 billion people and will soon surpass China as the most populous country on Earth. As their economic power rises, more and more Indians are developing an appetite for international travel,” said Mr Lalvani.
“With its pristine nature and wide range of accommodations and restaurants, Phuket is an ideal destination for Indians looking to escape the hustle and bustle of their crowded cities,” he added.
Mr Lalvani, who himself has Indian origins, has seen Indian travellers help to stabilise Phuket’s tourism numbers before. After the Phoenix boat tragedy in 2018, Phuket saw the worst decline in tourist arrivals since the 2004 tsunami.
Mr Lalvani convinced his friend Jeh Wadia, Managing Director of GoAir to launch three direct flights from India to Phuket in October of 2018.
“These direct flights were instrumental in boosting tourist numbers after the shortfall of Chinese tourists from 2018 until now,” Mr Lalvani said.
Already this year, Mr Lalvani is in discussion with Mr Wadia to launch another seven direct flights from India to Phuket to support Phuket tourism during the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the island’s tourism industry.
“If these new seven flights can happen, Phuket will be able to welcome more Indian tourists and relief from the shortage of tourists this year which will help overall Phuket and Thailand economically in 2020,” Mr Lalvani explained.
“Indians used to be 15th in arrival numbers to Phuket. By the end of 2019, they rose to third, behind only China and Russia,” he said.
“I have no doubt that they will be first in the near future. Phuket is quickly becoming one of the world’s leading lifestyle destinations and Indian tourists have been, and will continue to be, a huge part of the island’s success.”