The Tourism Authority of Thailand is aggressively promoting travel by Asean tourists coming here by car after facing a dip in visitors from some countries in this market after political tension started to escalate late last year.
The plan is aimed at bypassing protest-hit Bangkok and showing that the provinces are still peaceful and happy to welcome foreign tourists.
Travel by road is being seen as an option because it is becoming more popular. Roads have been improved and connections to neighbouring nations have multiplied, especially to Laos – with four bridges.
After a state of emergency was declared in January, the tourism scene has deteriorated as foreign visitors have concern about their safety.
According to the Tourism Ministry, Asean tourists travelling via Suvarnabhumi Airport plunged 21 per cent to 97,017 in January.
Since November, fewer people have been coming here from around the region. Numbers from Brunei were down 9 per cent, Cambodia 3 per cent, Indonesia 6 per cent, Malaysia 10 per cent and the Philippines 3 per cent.
The growth markets in Asean were Laos at 15 per cent, Myanmar at 2 per cent, Singapore at 17 per cent and Vietnam 20 per cent, thanks largely to “repeaters” are used to Thai society.
Jamnong Junnapiya, TAT’s executive director for Asean, South Asia and South Pacific, said last week that the prolonged political troubles had forced TAT to look for possible ways to maintain arrivals from the region.
Promoting land travel is a good solution to help offset the missing numbers, especially those flying to Bangkok.
‘‘We had adopted a tourism campaign called ‘Bangkok and Beyond’, but now we’re focusing more on ‘Beyond Bangkok’. When Bangkok got into trouble, we chose to promote land travel to keep our tourism industry active,’’ she said.
Apparently, people from southern China, especially Kunming, have driven from their home to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. They have also headed down to Sukhothai and Phitsanulok. There is hope that new border bridges will help boost traffic from Laos and Vietnam. Overall numbers are on the rise, but TAT acknowledged that people may not have such strong spending power, especially Laotians.
The TAT will also work with low-cost carriers to promote flights from neighbouring nations to provinces in Thailand.
Last year, Asean tourists grew 18 per cent to about 7.38 million, while tourism receipts expanded 18 per cent to Bt187.46 billion. This year, Asean arrivals are expected to rise 6 per cent to about 7.64 million, while tourism revenue from Asean could grow 11 per cent to Bt215.35 billion.
The political tensions are a key risk for the tourism industry. If the trend continues into mid-year, the projection for the Asean market will most likely be cut. If the situation ends in the near future, the market could rebound quickly and the projection may be kept.
The political trend could lead Thailand to lose opportunities in the region, especially to arch-rivals like Malaysia. The regional market is very competitive because countries have adopted more forceful strategies to lift their tourism sectors. There are signs that tourists have changed their trips from Thailand to neighbouring nations, she added.
Asean has shown big tourism potential. It is considered Asia’s fastest-growing region. According to the TAT, which cited the Asean Secretariat and World Tourism Organisation, 89.13 million people around the world visited Asean in 2012, up 9.7 per cent. Malaysia stayed on top by attracting more than 25.03 million, followed by Thailand with 22.35 million and Singapore with 14.4 million. The three countries controlled 70 per cent of all tourists entering the region.
Last year, about 26.73 million foreign tourists came to Thailand. Malaysia welcomed 18.75 million foreign tourists from January-Sept.