2013: The Most Successful in Thai Tourism History

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Asia-Pacific country are key drivers of growth.

by Imtiaz Muqbil

The year 2013 was the most successful in the history of Thai tourism, with international visitor arrivals of 26,735,583, up 19.6 percent over 2012. Earnings from tourism also hit THB 1.17 trillion, crossing the one trillion mark for the first time. The figures show some fascinating indicators of prevailing trends, all of which will lead to major changes in Thailand’s tourism marketing, promotion and product development strategies in the next few years.

Thanks to strong airline connections, visa-on-arrival facilities, and the publicity impact of the movie “Lost in Thailand,” China has surged to become the top source-market and is likely to remain there for the foreseeable future. Its growth rate of 68 percent was also the highest of all markets, a unique combination unmatched by any other source market.

Russia is the third largest market in terms of volume and fifth largest market in terms of growth. The warm-weather lure of Thailand remains a big draw for Russians fleeing the harsh winters, and their escape is made all the more possible by strong airline connections and visa-on-arrival facilities.

India remained just above the one million level with 1,049,856 arrivals.

Laos has become the seventh country to join the one million arrivals club, reflecting the positive impact of four friendship bridges now open across the Mekong River.

The Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, India, and China, now commands a whopping 70 percent of all arrivals. The 10 ASEAN countries alone are generating more visitors than all of Europe.

Arrivals grew from all the major markets except six.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, here are the major reasons why Thailand’s visitor arrivals fared well in 2013:

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● A long-standing geographical advantage that has positioned Thailand at the crossroads of Asia, allowing for a good balance of arrivals in terms of source-markets and customer segments.
● The long-standing visa-free and visa-on-arrival policy has allowed visitors from many of its key source-markets to just make their bookings and move, without having to worry about the lengthy and tedious process of procuring visas.
● A generally favorable exchange rate has made the country’s tourism product and shopping attractions very good value for money.
● Extensive airline and aviation access to Thailand in terms of both domestic and regional linkages has ensured a plentiful, if not always adequate, supply of seats.
● A friendly and service-oriented people with a strong history and cultural tradition that is respectful of all races or religions.
● An excellent reputation for product delivery, including an extensive range of natural and cultural heritage attractions (e.g., good beaches, tropical forests, historical sites) that form a wide variety of tourism destinations and activities.
● The strong promotional campaigns during the past years, starting with the Visit Thailand Year of 1987 and leading up to the Amazing Thailand campaign of recent years, all of which have augmented the good image of Thailand cultivated by books, movies, and other icons like famous hotels.
● Strong regional cooperation and joint tourism promotion with the Mekong subregion and ASEAN neighbouring countries. A number of regional free trade agreements with the regional countries will further facilitate movement of people for tourism and business travel.
● Good transportation (rail, road, air) infrastructure as well as accommodation and restaurants catering for all budgets (backpackers to top deluxe travelers).

For 2014, the TAT has set a target of 28.01 million, generating estimated foreign exchange revenue of THB 1.326 trillion, up 13 percent. This will be achieved through extensive use of social media marketing networks, continued investment in fast-growing markets such as Indonesia and India, and a focus on high-spending niche-markets such as golf, health and wellness, weddings and honeymoons, and green tourism. Asia-Pacific’s millions of young people will be primary target markets.

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