Thailand expects almost 35 million foreign tourists — equivalent to half the country’s population, tourists to visit the country this year.
And the government is shifting strategy as the influx gets harder to manage. Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul said that instead of a particular number of visitors, it’s now targeting a minimum increase in tourism revenue of about 5 percent annually.
She said that a mix the typical Australian holidaymaker exemplifies – encouraging longer stays and higher daily spending, is the mantra.
“Maybe they’re the ones who are like: this is my time — I eat, I shop, and I eat, and I shop,” Kobkarn, 56, said in an interview.
Tourism Ministry data shows that forking out 5,831 baht ($172) last year, Australian visitors were among the top 10 biggest spenders in terms of per capita daily expenditure. Also, highest in that group was their average length of stay of almost 14 days.
Some nationalities tend to be more parsimonious even though they take even longer holidays. For example, while spending 4,376 baht daily on an average, British tourists stayed for just over 18 days on average.
While facing challenges such as political uncertainty and sluggish consumer demand, tourism is a bright spot for Thailand’s economy. Kobkarn said in the interview in Chiang Mai last month that the sector makes up about 18 percent of gross domestic product.
“We no longer have a target for number of tourists,” she said. “We shouldn’t go beyond the limit that we can cope. But there’s no statistic on that yet. When people say that Phuket may be too crowded, or Bangkok is too crowded, we have to make sure that we are introducing new destinations too.”
Powered by a surge in Chinese holidaymakers who contributed 28 percent of 1.6 trillion baht in foreign tourism receipts in 2016, arrivals from overseas more than doubled in the past decade.
Malaysia’s place as Southeast Asia’s most popular destination has been usurped by Thailand primarily due to its affordability. But in order to tackle emerging competitive threats from the likes of Myanmar and Vietnam, the nation must focus on quality as well as cost, Kobkarn said.
Kobkarn said that as Thailand needs travelers on a variety of budgets, quality doesn’t just mean targeting wealthy tourists. She said that instead, increasing the average length of stay and bolster daily spending per head is the aim driven by offering of a good value experiences that encourage return visits.
According to the Tourism Ministry data, the biggest per capita daily spenders are the visitors from the Middle East. Dwarfing other nationalities and making China the most important single country for tourism receipts, Chinese tourists stood out for above-average expenditure and sheer number of arrivals — 8.8 million.
In recent months, there has been a somewhat slowdown of Thailand’s years-long tourism boom. A clampdown by the military government on some operators of large Chinese tour groups, which were judged to generate insufficient local spending and terrorist bombings in resort towns in August last year are partly responsible for that slowdown.
But as security concerns fade and Chinese visitors embrace independent travel over package tours,, arrivals are likely to pick up in the second half of 2017.
(Adapted from Bloomberg)