Thailand continues to be celebrated as a world-class travel destination, whether for business, leisure or medical care. Offering excellent infrastructure, reliable full service and very affordable prices, the country is considered a prime location by travelers from Asia to the Middle East to the West.
Business travelers from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, mainland China and India have ranked Thailand among their top destinations of the first half of 2012, according to a recent survey by the France-based hotel chain Accor.
The company also found that Thai entrepreneurs themselves traveled more in the January-June period, with the upward trend expected to continue during the second half of the year. In the first half, Thai business people made nine trips (domestic or overseas) on average, up from five in 1H 2011. Entrepreneurs indicated that they are increasing travel activity because business is growing.
“We found that Thai business travelers are more confident about the economic strength this year and are seizing new business opportunities both locally and abroad,” said Evan Lewis, vice-president for communication at Accor Asia-Pacific.
New York-based Travel & Leisure, with 4.8 million readers, also views Thailand most favorably. In its 2012 poll, the magazine has once again voted Bangkok as the world’s best city for tourism. The Thai capital’s attractiveness as a tourist center outranks Florence, Istanbul, Cape Town, Sydney, Rome, New York City, Hong Kong, Kyoto and Paris.
Thailand welcomed about 19 million foreign tourists last year and the figure for 2012 is projected to shoot well past 20 million visits. According to Department of Tourism statistics, activity was vigorous in the first half of this year with 12.43 million arrivals, up 8.34% from the same period in 2011. During 1H, visitors from China led the way at 1.40 million, followed by Malaysia at 1.36 million, Japan with 730,590, Russia with 726,041 and South Korea at 640,230. Visitors from India, Laos, Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, the United States, and Middle Eastern countries also came in high numbers.
They flock to Thailand for the shopping, nightlife and ancient palaces of its cities, beautiful beaches, delicious Thai cuisine, and scenic mountains and valleys.
Thailand’s tourism industry is on track to reel in revenues from foreign visitors totaling 1.04 trillion baht in 2013, 1.23 trillion baht in 2014 and 1.45 trillion baht in 2015, according to estimates by the Tourism and Sports Ministry. Local tourists will spend an additional 480 billion baht next year, 520 billion baht the year after and 550 billion baht in 2015. The expenditure by foreigners and locals combined elevates the country to a 2 trillion baht tourism market in three years.
Besides business and leisure, Thailand is also a hub of medical tourism. With government agencies and business associations pushing the concept of medical, health and wellness tourism, the country already welcomes 2 million foreign patients each year. Services range from heart bypass procedures to hip replacements to dental care. In a cost comparison example, a heart bypass runs about US$130,000 in the United States, US$20,000 in Singapore but only US$11,000 in Thailand.
Some 1,400 public and private hospitals are situated far and wide throughout the nation, offering state-of-the-art equipment and overseas-trained doctors who operate at international standards. Thailand’s quality care is a fraction of the cost of procedures in many other countries.
In addition to the affordable world-class medical services, Thailand has its excellent coastal, highland and cosmopolitan tourism sites as a bonus for medical tourists who want to bring their families along. The country’s medical tourism packages are all-inclusive. Besides arranging the needed medical services, they provide the foreign patients with airport-hotel transfers, accommodation and meals, and cultural activities such as visits to temples, floating markets, traditional Thai dancing shows, elephant and crocodile farms, and beautiful coral coasts.
To help make treatment more convenient, the Cabinet in August 2012 approved a Ministry of Interior measure allowing visitors from six Middle Eastern nations who seek medical services to stay in Thailand for up to 90 days without visas. This is part of the government’s work to enhance Thailand’s status as a major tourist destination. The six countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to the Tourism Authority, the new measure should boost Middle Eastern medical tourists substantially from the current annual number of about 527,000.
Thailand’s position as a leading global center of tourism will be further strengthened when the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) takes shape. In 2015, the 10 member countries of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are to launch the AEC as a single market. Tariffs will be eliminated and investment sectors liberalized between Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Brunei and the Philippines.
With this, a free flow of goods, services, capital and people will blossom across the regional bloc. Under the so-called AEC Blueprint, health care and tourism are two of the priority service sectors targeted for removal of all restrictions by 2015.