Presiding at the Association of Thai Travel Agents and Thai Hotels Association annual meeting, last Wednesday (Jan 25), Deputy Prime Minister Thanasak Patimaprakorn said last year the country welcomed 32.6 million international visits.
He claimed there were more “quality tourists” in the year’s total than in the past as a result of government promotions.
The crackdown of illegal tour operators and hotels would also help to drive quality tourism, he said, referring to the policy to end zero-dollar tours from China that he said have no financial value for the country, but create considerable stress on resources.
“The country needs to set strategies to shift tourists from crowded destinations and to develop new tourist attractions… we have to tighten safety and security.”
This year, Thailand will focus on specific tourism segments such as sports tourism, health and wellness, weddings and romance, marine and rail to boost tourism.
The government will also promote what is popularly called foodie tourism, and Deputy PM Thanasak has already proposed to the Cabinet to approve a proposal by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to sign an agreement with Michelin Guide to award Michelin stars for excellence restaurants. It should be completed in three weeks.
The Michelin Guidebook Bangkok is expected to cover five years starting this year and will cost US$4.1mn (B49.252mn) to establish and operate, although he did not elaborate on the cost breakdown.
“Once the project is approved, Thailand will be the second country in Asean, after Singapore, to join the Michelin Guidebook…it will help to increase tourist spending in the country.”
In addition, the government is likely to extend the free tourist visa concession for citizens of 19 nations that is due to end Feb 28. It will be extended for another six months, Deputy PM Thanasak added.
Most of the countries listed are not major tourist providers, but the concession sends the right message to China, Taiwan, India and Saudi Arabia markets that have vast potential for growth, he said.
The 19 nations eligible for the visa-fee waiver comprise of Andorra, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Under the scheme, citizens from the 19 countries do not need to pay the B1,000 fee to process a visa at Thai embassies, or consular offices overseas. They still have to visit the consulates, which can be time consuming due to the long distances between the capital and other cities.
The visa-on-arrival fee, which was increased on Sept 27 to B2,000 was also reduced to B1,000 for citizens of the 19 countries. The visa-on-arrival is valid for just 15 days.
ATTA President Charoen Wangananont said, “This year, tourism should grow around 9% to 10% mainly on the back of strong markets in Asia.
“Asean market will be crucial for us this year and that will encourage more air connectivity between destinations,” he added.
Thai Hotels Association President Supawan Tanomkieatipum said it was vital to convince tour operators to use legal hotels to end negative practices.
Last year, overall hotel occupancy stood at 64.48%, up 3.23% from 62.46%. This year, the association expects occupancy to close at 70%, she said.
This year, the country projects 35mn foreign travellers. Tourism-related revenue is expected to reach B2.71 trillion. Of that, B1.78trn is to come from foreign visitors and B930 billion from domestic travellers.
In 2016, the country attracted 32,588,303 international visits, improving 8.91% compared with 29,923,185 in 2015.
Last year, overall tourism revenue reached B2.51trn, increasing 10.93% and exceeding the target of B2.4trn. Of that, B1.64trn came from international markets and B870bn from the domestic market.
The revenue estimates were based on exit surveys to determine an average spend per tourist, but are not considered entirely accurate.
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