DESPITE facing several crises, tourism in Thailand will continue to grow and can always be restored after setbacks, said Parichat Haehnen, Booking.com’s regional manager for Thailand, Indochina and Myanmar.
“Every time we have been faced with risk factors – incidents in the South, floods, bombs, or shutting down of the capital city by demonstrators – once the crises were over tourists always came back,” she said in an interview recently.
“Or if Bangkok was hit they chose to go other provinces instead.”
Her confidence is backed up by the number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand. In the first four months of this year, 12 million foreigners came to Thailand, up 4.71 per cent from the same period last year, she said.
And it is not only Thailand that is seeing tourism growth, but also its neighbours. Among the CLMVT nations (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand), the region Parichat oversees, Thailand has been Booking.com’s largest market for the past 10 years, she said. However, the Vietnam market is clearly growing as well, as is Myanmar after it initiated a visa-free policy.
The number of accommodations in CLMVT countries listed on Booking.com has expanded gradually, she said, but this year she expects it to grow by double digits.
In Thailand, 20,000 accommodations are listed on Booking.com, of which half are major hotels and the other half resorts, island bungalows, urban hostels and countryside retreats. There are 7,000 listed in Vietnam, 2,500 in Cambodia, 1,000 in Myanmar, and 900 in Laos.
Vietnam was among the fastest-growing in number of accommodation listed on the website, jumping by 50 per cent from last year, Parichat said. Growth in Myanmar was also 50 per cent, followed by Thailand and Cambodia at 40 per cent, and 20 per cent for Laos.
She said her focus was to provide travellers a large choice of accommodations as well as various types, ranging from five-star hotels to home-stays.
She expects the online tourism market to grow gradually in the second half of this year.
The number of tourists coming to Thailand will increase, while new destinations will emerge for tourists to explore, she said.
Parichat noted that the top five nationalities that used her website to book rooms in Thailand over the past five months were Chinese, Russians, Germans, Swiss and Britons.
A recent study by the site found new inbound markets this year, she said. International inbound growth markets are Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, Poland, Japan, India, South Korea, Russia, the United States and Malaysia.
Booking.com last year conducted a survey of 13,000 Thai customers to forecast the trends of Thai travellers in 2017. The survey showed that Tokyo was Thais’ most popular international destination. Singapore came second, followed by Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Mount Fuji, London and Sapporo.
Taipei was Thais’ fastest-growing international destination, followed by Shanghai, Hanoi, Guangzhou, Luang Prabang, Yangon, Zurich, Vientiane, Phnom Penh and Seoul.
The top 10 most popular domestic destinations for Thai travellers are Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, Pattaya Central, Patong Beach in Phuket, Jomtien Beach in Pattaya, Pattaya South, Chiang Rai, Cha-am, and Ao Nang in Krabi.
The 10 fastest-growing domestic destinations for Thai travellers are Na Jomtien, Khao Yai, Hat Yai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Surat Thani, Udon Thani, Kanchanaburi city, Phi Phi Island, Koh Lanta, and Phuket Town.
Based on these results, Parichat forecasts that Thais this year will travel more within the country because of greater transportation convenience, more holidays, and more budget flights.
A highlight of Booking.com’s study showed the growing number of customers booking accommodations via mobile phones. Parichat forecasts that three in every five tourists will book rooms from mobile devices in the second half of this year. The current figure is two in every five.
The website plans to launch a “Booking Experiences” feature in Thailand by the end of this year. The feature will harness artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology to design holiday experiences for each customer. Travellers can view the full list of available things to do, scour for nearby events, or simply explore on the go once they arrive.
“With this feature, we aim to provide service for our clients from the time their journeys begin until they returned home,” she said.
Bangkok and Chiang Mai will be selected as destinations to be introduced in the feature because there are many activities in those two provinces. Currently, the Booking Experiences product is available in Amsterdam, Paris, London, Rome, Dubai and New York City.