The tourism boom is expected to continue in 2017 and remain a major growth driver for the economy, even as the industry sees falling Chinese arrivals in the first few months.
The Tourism and Sports Ministry projects tourism revenue in 2017 will reach 2.71 trillion THB, of which 1.78 trillion will come from foreign tourists, growing 8.5% from 2016, and 930 billion will stem from domestic tourists, up 7.5%. This target has been increased from 2.6 trillion THB forecast earlier, and is 8.2% higher than the 2.5 trillion THB expected in 2016.
The number of international tourists to Thailand is expected to reach 35 million in 2017, up from 32.5 million in 2016. The country’s economic recovery, which has been backed by stimulus measures and massive infrastructure investment, is expected to help drive the growth in Thai tourism. The Fiscal Policy Office predicts the Thai economy will expand by 4% in 2017. Another supporting factor is more ASEAN tourists will visit Thailand, as the country is an aviation hub in this region, having good connections to both main and secondary cities.
“The expansions at major airports including Don Mueang, Phuket and U-tapao, as well as better transportation networks for rail and road, will benefit the tourism sector and make tourism more convenient,” says Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. China remains a very important source market for Thai tourism as it represents about 30% of international arrivals. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) projects Chinese tourist arrivals in 2017 will grow to 9.8 million despite the zero-dollar tour crackdown, up from 8.8 million in 2016. An earlier TAT target was for 10 million Chinese arrivals before the crackdown.
TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn says the Chinese tourist market has a lot of potential to grow in the future because the Chinese normally make 120 million outbound trips a year. Some 60% of Chinese tourist arrivals are free independent travelers and 40% come in tour groups. Among the tour group visitors, 50% are lured to Thailand with zero-dollar tour packages. Even if tour packages to Thailand are priced higher, Yuthasak says Chinese tourists will still pay to visit here because they love Thai food and culture, as well as its beautiful nature. The number of Chinese arrivals fell sharply in October and November, by 16% and 30%, respectively. Travel agents report Chinese tourists are concerned about the unclear situation after the crackdown, with travel agents there suspended from selling packages here. The Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) predicts Chinese tourist arrivals will fall by 20%, or 2.1 million, in the first quarter of 2017. But Kobkarn insists the decline in Chinese arrivals is over now, and their numbers will soon return to normal in 2017.
TAT has joined hands with many airlines to promote Thailand. The government also announced measures to boost sentiment by waiving visa fees and reducing visaon-arrival fees from 2,000 baht to 1,000 THB for many countries, including China. Thai tour agents report travel companies in China started selling tour packages to Thailand again in December. Typically, travel companies in China sell packages three months in advance, so Chinese tourists are expected to return to Thailand in pre-crackdown numbers from the second quarter of 2017. TAT predicts Russian tourists will come back in 2017. It plans to negotiate with some airlines to open new routes to more cities in Russia from Thailand. TAT plans to increase arrivals from India by 7.73% in 2017 to 1.24 million, generating 60 billion THB, up 11.96%. It will target couples and those who want to have wedding parties here. For the Middle East, the focus will remain on medical tourism. – Bangkok Post