Haze casts shadow over Songkran tourism
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has forecast tourism levels during Songkran to drop by 10 per cent, partly due to the northern haze problems.
Meanwhile, the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) expects the strong baht to encourage Thais to travel abroad during the Songkran festival.
TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said the haze problem in the northern region would have a direct impact on tourism levels in the North during the Songkran festival from April 12 to 16. It is expected that the number of tourists will drop by more than 10 per cent compared to last year. Hence, tourist groups are expected to adjust their travel plans and choose to travel to other areas in the Kingdom instead.
He expected overall hotel occupancy rate in the northern region during Songkran to be around 75 per cent. Hotels in areas affected by wildfires, such as Mae Rim, Chiang Dao and Fang districts of Chiang Mai province may have reservation rates under 50 per cent. Hotels in Mae Hong Son province may face the worst booking rate at under 30 per cent, making some hotels opt to close down for renovations.
“Due to the fallout from the downturn in the three northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son, TAT expects tourism revenue during this year’s Songkran to reduce by Bt2 billion,” he said.
The TAT has predicted that the number of Thai tourists travelling during the Songkran festival at 3.11 million people, increasing by 3 per cent and generating 5 per cent revenue growth, amounting to Bt10.697 billion.
Some 546,000 foreign tourists are expected, an 8 per cent increase, generating an increase in revenue of 14 per cent, valued at Bt10.283 billion. In total, this is expected to generate an income spread of Bt20.98 billion, a 10 per cent increase year on year with a national average reservation rate of 75 per cent.
Most tourists visiting during the holiday season are predicted to be from nearby markets, such as Asean countries, China, Taiwan, and India, with the top three Asean tourists being from Singapore, increasing by 26 per cent; Malaysia, increasing by 24 per cent; and Vietnam, increasing by 22 per cent. Meanwhile, tourists from East Asian markets are also forecast to increase, with tourists from Hong Kong increasing by 26 per cent; from South Korea by 14 per cent; and from Japan by 5 per cent.
Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the Thai Hotel Association (THA), said that the rate of hotel bookings throughout the country during Songkran was not good yet.
At present, Chiang Mai has only a 60 per cent reservation level after being affected by haze problems. Bangkok and Pattaya have similar bookings at 60 per cent. The southern region has 70 to 80 per cent bookings.
A key cause of the low reservation rate is the global economic slowdown, which has yet to recover, she said.
“The hotel occupancy rate for Songkran this year is expected to decrease by 5 per cent year on year due to the impact of the smog crisis. This has led to lower reservations by foreign tourists compared to the same period last year,” she said. “Hotel operators hope to see more last-minute bookings in the days leading up to the Songkran festival.”
Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said that although the level of bookings of foreign tourists this Songkran was not comparable with last year, the reduction of tourist figures this year was not drastic. Due to the smog problem in the northern region, Chinese tourists, who usually visit Chiang Mai in large numbers during Songkran, may change their travel destinations to other countries such as Japan, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia.
On the other hand, the appreciation of the baht will lead to more Thais travelling abroad during Songkran, Yuthasak said.
Airports of Thailand Plc (AOT) reported that during this year’s Songkran period, an average of 40,000 Thais would travel abroad every day.
TTAA vice president Charoen Wangananont said that because 2019 has two consecutive holidays – Chakri Memorial Day and the Songkran break – Thais are more likely to make plans to travel for up to 10 days from April 6 to 15. This long holiday season makes Japan the most popular destination for Thais, followed by Europe.
He predicted that during this period, up to 300,000 Thais would travel abroad, spending at least Bt30,000 per trip, with a total spending of Bt9 billion.