THAILAND EXPECTS the number of international tourists to hit 60 million in 2030, forcing the country to expand its investment in developing the infrastructure needed to support them, up from an anticipated 38 million this year, Tourism and Sports Ministry permanent secretary Pongpanu Svetarundra said in an interview with The Nation.
“Thailand has under-invested in facilities when considering the country’s aggressive growth in tourists,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the Asean-Korea Tourism Investment Seminar 2018 in Seoul last weekend.
“If we continue to delay investment to develop the country’s infrastructure – such as investment for the third phase of Suvarnabhumi Airport, Laem Chabang Port phase three, high-speed trains, etc – the country will not have the capacity to serve the expanded number of tourists visiting the country,” he said.
To speed up infrastructure development, the country must open up investment in projects to the private sector under public-private partnerships, and also make it easier for foreign investors to expand their investments in infrastructure or tourist businesses by offering them incentives, Pongpanu said.
Thailand also needed to relax some of its rules that limit the opportunity for foreign investment in the country’s service sector, which now limits investment only to local investors, he said. This would help the country to improve services for foreign tourists.
The country, meanwhile, needed to improve skills among service sector workers, particularly language skills, Pongpanu said, noting that many local people lack the ability to communicate with foreign tourists visiting Thailand.
As well, the expected strong growth of the tourism business called for developing the nation’s innovation-based industries and digital transformation to meet the demand from foreign tourists, he said.
“If we speed up improving the country’s capacity to serve a rising number of tourists, we are confident that Thailand will maintain its market leadership for international tourists in the Asean bloc,” he said.
International tourist visiting Asean nations in 2017 reached 120 million, with Thailand topping out at 35 million visits, followed by Malaysia at 25.9 million.
For 2018, Thailand expects the number of tourists to hit 38 million, up 8 per cent from last year. The tourist sector generates revenue of about 20 per cent of GDP.
To drive the target rise in the number of international tourists, the Tourism and Sports Ministry joined with the Asean-Korea Tourism Investment Seminar 2018 in Seoul, from June 8-10 to promote the country’s tourism.
There they invited South Korean investors to expand their investments in Thailand’s tourist business, Pongpanu said.
“We proposed marine and cruise, health and sport, and theme park tourism for South Korean investors to expand their investment in Thailand, so that Thailand has the facilities to serve with these activities,” Pongpanu said.
Tourism investment seemingly entered a new era of collaboration, with Asean nations and Korea developing partnerships that began after the Asean Tourism Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand in January this year. At that event Asean’s tourist ministers agreed to a new approach to collaborate as “Asean+3” – which includes China, Japan, and South Korea – to invest in tourist businesses rather than simply promote tourist visits.
The Asean-Korea Tourism Investment 2018 was the first major get-together following the Chiang Mai meet. Next will come the Asean-China Tourism Investment event in 2019 and Asean-Japan in 2020.
The enlarged vision would support sustainable growth of Asean tourism, said Pongpanu.
“Our Asean strategy is one destination for 10 countries. We try to cooperate to reduce the problems for foreign tourists to visit 10 countries in Asean, especially the process to create one Asean visa for 10 countries that is underway,” said the permanent secretary.