Thailand expects a whopping 33 million tourists this year

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Tourists in BangkokThailand expects more than 33 million foreign tourists in 2016, up around 13 per cent over 29.8 million in 2015, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT). With those numbers, Thailand would sustainably outpace its arch-rival Malaysia which it highly likely already overtook in 2015. Although official numbers from Malaysia are not available yet, estimations are that the neighbouring country just welcomed 25 million foreign tourists, mainly due to a drop in Chinese visitors.

In Thailand, this year a total of 8.81 million international arrivals are expected in the first quarter, up around 12 per cent year-on-year, and 7.82 million in the second quarter, a growth of almost 12 per cent – in case there are no – what the TCT calls – “unusual events.”

According to Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, tourism revenue in the first quarter is currently at 660 billion baht ($16.7 billion), a 14.4 per cent increase from the same period last year.

If the forecast for the full year verifies, tourism-generated income this year could reach 1.75 trillion baht ($48.6 billion), up 21 per cent over 2015, or 12.5 per cent of GDP, said TCT president Ittirit Kinglek.

Tourism, apart from government spending, has been one pf the few drivers for the Thai economy in 2015 and so far in 2016. Some experts point at the danger of becoming too dependent on foreign tourist spending given global political volatility and economic woes in important source countries for Thai tourism such as Russia and China.

Last year, the drastic ruble devaluation led to a decrease in Russian tourists visiting Thailand of around 30 per cent. However, visitor numbers from Russia rebounded over the past months as the country is getting on its economic feet again. In the first two months of 2016, Thailand witnessed a 14 per cent year-on-year rise in Russian tourist arrivals.

Thailand also attracted a large number of Chinese tourists during Chinese New Year in February, and the number of visitors from ASEAN countries is expected to reach 7 million this year.

A strong focus will remain on attracting more European tourists to Thailand who are among the best-spending visitors with the longest average length of stay with 16.4 days per person and an average daily expenditure of around €106 as per 2014 figures. About 65 per cent of European visitors make repeat visits to the country.

The tourism minister thus wants to reach out to more “quality tourists” from Europe (supposedly as opposed to backpackers). Europe tops Thailand’s agenda to boost upscale, niche-market tourism to the country. This includes luxury travel options and niche markets such as weddings and honeymoons, wellness and spas, community-based attractions and sports tourism.

Al Meroz Hotel Bangkok
AL Meroz Hotel, Bangkok’s first halal-certified hotel, located in Ramkamhaeng

In another move, Thailand in its competition with Malaysia aims at attracting more Muslim tourists who currently make the lion’s share of health tourism to the country. With more target group-related options such as halal-certified food, prayer rooms in hotels and halal travel activities, expectations are that particularly guests from the wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council and from European Muslim communities would choose Thailand to spend their holidays. A grand opening for Thailand’s first halal-certified hotel, the upscale Al Meroz Hotel in Bangkok, is scheduled for July 2016.

However, in the light of the bright developments, tourism minister Wattanavrangkul also said that, “at the same time, we need to ensure a balance between tourism growth and its social and environmental impact.”

Critics remark that tourism promotion in Thailand is still aimed too much at quantity rather than quality, with the result that Thailand dearly experiences the not-so-welcome effects of mass tourism.

Most of all, the high numbers of tourists has brought uneven distribution of financial benefits, in favour of large enterprises, while some indirect costs are shouldered by local people who have no or little direct gain from tourist promotion. It has also led to a rural exodus of younger people from poorer parts of Thailand to Bangkok and other tourism hubs, depriving their homeland of labour force and skills.

Thainess for tourists
Thainess for tourists

Some developments in the Thai entertainment industry have also pushes the ethical boundaries for the locals, although the bar industry is by far not confined to visitors alone, it’s just more visible. This has, at some locations such as Pattaya, raised its very ugly head.

The environmental effects of unbridled tourism development are also becoming more and more visible through pollution of beaches, the expansion of hotel and resort developments, villa projects and golf courses that eat into natural forests along the country’s coastlines and on its islands.

In terms of promoting Thai culture – and what is subsumed under “Thainess” (a mysterious feature coined to describe a characteristic that persons and things possess when they are Thai, and a catch-all term used to describe a culturally conservative vision of Thailand) -, a commercialisation of this culture and characteristic Thai traits have caused some sort of cultural erosion. In turn, many Thais have grown weary of the exploitation of their culture to please foreigners.

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Thailand expects more than 33 million foreign tourists in 2016, up around 13 per cent over 29.8 million in 2015, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT). With those numbers, Thailand would sustainably outpace its arch-rival Malaysia which it highly likely already overtook in 2015. Although official numbers from Malaysia are not available yet, estimations are that the neighbouring country just welcomed 25 million foreign tourists, mainly due to a drop in Chinese visitors. In Thailand, this year a total of 8.81 million international arrivals are expected in the first quarter, up around 12 per cent year-on-year, and 7.82...

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tourists in BangkokThailand expects more than 33 million foreign tourists in 2016, up around 13 per cent over 29.8 million in 2015, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT). With those numbers, Thailand would sustainably outpace its arch-rival Malaysia which it highly likely already overtook in 2015. Although official numbers from Malaysia are not available yet, estimations are that the neighbouring country just welcomed 25 million foreign tourists, mainly due to a drop in Chinese visitors.

In Thailand, this year a total of 8.81 million international arrivals are expected in the first quarter, up around 12 per cent year-on-year, and 7.82 million in the second quarter, a growth of almost 12 per cent – in case there are no – what the TCT calls – “unusual events.”

According to Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, tourism revenue in the first quarter is currently at 660 billion baht ($16.7 billion), a 14.4 per cent increase from the same period last year.

If the forecast for the full year verifies, tourism-generated income this year could reach 1.75 trillion baht ($48.6 billion), up 21 per cent over 2015, or 12.5 per cent of GDP, said TCT president Ittirit Kinglek.

Tourism, apart from government spending, has been one pf the few drivers for the Thai economy in 2015 and so far in 2016. Some experts point at the danger of becoming too dependent on foreign tourist spending given global political volatility and economic woes in important source countries for Thai tourism such as Russia and China.

Last year, the drastic ruble devaluation led to a decrease in Russian tourists visiting Thailand of around 30 per cent. However, visitor numbers from Russia rebounded over the past months as the country is getting on its economic feet again. In the first two months of 2016, Thailand witnessed a 14 per cent year-on-year rise in Russian tourist arrivals.

Thailand also attracted a large number of Chinese tourists during Chinese New Year in February, and the number of visitors from ASEAN countries is expected to reach 7 million this year.

A strong focus will remain on attracting more European tourists to Thailand who are among the best-spending visitors with the longest average length of stay with 16.4 days per person and an average daily expenditure of around €106 as per 2014 figures. About 65 per cent of European visitors make repeat visits to the country.

The tourism minister thus wants to reach out to more “quality tourists” from Europe (supposedly as opposed to backpackers). Europe tops Thailand’s agenda to boost upscale, niche-market tourism to the country. This includes luxury travel options and niche markets such as weddings and honeymoons, wellness and spas, community-based attractions and sports tourism.

Al Meroz Hotel Bangkok
AL Meroz Hotel, Bangkok’s first halal-certified hotel, located in Ramkamhaeng

In another move, Thailand in its competition with Malaysia aims at attracting more Muslim tourists who currently make the lion’s share of health tourism to the country. With more target group-related options such as halal-certified food, prayer rooms in hotels and halal travel activities, expectations are that particularly guests from the wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council and from European Muslim communities would choose Thailand to spend their holidays. A grand opening for Thailand’s first halal-certified hotel, the upscale Al Meroz Hotel in Bangkok, is scheduled for July 2016.

However, in the light of the bright developments, tourism minister Wattanavrangkul also said that, “at the same time, we need to ensure a balance between tourism growth and its social and environmental impact.”

Critics remark that tourism promotion in Thailand is still aimed too much at quantity rather than quality, with the result that Thailand dearly experiences the not-so-welcome effects of mass tourism.

Most of all, the high numbers of tourists has brought uneven distribution of financial benefits, in favour of large enterprises, while some indirect costs are shouldered by local people who have no or little direct gain from tourist promotion. It has also led to a rural exodus of younger people from poorer parts of Thailand to Bangkok and other tourism hubs, depriving their homeland of labour force and skills.

Thainess for tourists
Thainess for tourists

Some developments in the Thai entertainment industry have also pushes the ethical boundaries for the locals, although the bar industry is by far not confined to visitors alone, it’s just more visible. This has, at some locations such as Pattaya, raised its very ugly head.

The environmental effects of unbridled tourism development are also becoming more and more visible through pollution of beaches, the expansion of hotel and resort developments, villa projects and golf courses that eat into natural forests along the country’s coastlines and on its islands.

In terms of promoting Thai culture – and what is subsumed under “Thainess” (a mysterious feature coined to describe a characteristic that persons and things possess when they are Thai, and a catch-all term used to describe a culturally conservative vision of Thailand) -, a commercialisation of this culture and characteristic Thai traits have caused some sort of cultural erosion. In turn, many Thais have grown weary of the exploitation of their culture to please foreigners.

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