CHIANG RAI, 28 July 2015: Chiang Rai’s airport will undergo a THB300 million upgrade over the next two years in a move to establish this far-north town as a gateway for Chinese tourists.
Around 200 tourism executives and government officials attended a seminar, Monday, at the Dusit Island Resort, that focused on the province’s future in the lucrative Chinese tourism market.
AoT sponsored the event as part of its strategy to improve air connections to Chiang Rai and the Mekong Region by strengthening air transport and tourism relations between China and Thailand.
Delegates heard Airports of Thailand’s executives outline plans to significantly boost Chiang Rai airport’s capacity to handle more aircraft and passengers.
The plan covering the next two years calls for two taxi-ways. Currently aircraft have to taxi to the terminal on the runway.
The airport can handle up to 50 aircraft movements per day, but that ceiling would increase if it had taxi-ways.
More aircraft parking lots, gates and departure halls will be added starting with a new international terminal area to be located on the second floor of the terminal building.
That will free-up space on the ground floor to expand domestic gates and passenger space.
Officials noted that according to a recent Airbus study, 50% of China’s new aircraft purchases will be in the A320 category, an aircraft that serves destinations within a five-hour flight range.
“We have to prepare Chiang Rai airport to be able to handle this kind of expansion over the next two years,” said the airport’s vice president and general manager, Ittipol Boonaree.
He acknowledged that Chiang Mai airport was fast reaching its ceiling capacity for passenger traffic and aircraft movements, making it crucial to position Chiang Rai as an alternative airport. They are around 180 km apart, but the transfer between the two cities takes three hours over a mountain road.
However, if plans to build a motorway between the two cities eventually materialise, it would cut travelling time to around one hour and 30 minutes. The project is viewed with scepticism from critics who say Chiang Rai could wait a decade, or more, for a motorway, or the much talked about railway line.
Chiang Rai airport handled 3,400 Chinese passengers a month on average during peak travel months, January to March, this year.
That figure levelled out at 1,500 during the rainy season. The cool season peak was mainly powered by series of charter flights organised by Nok Air on the Kunming-Chiang Rai route.
Overland travel also increased this year with around 4,000 Chinese cars crossing the friendship bridge at Chiang Kong to tour Chiang Rai and North Thailand in caravan tours.
During August, a caravan of 100 cars will visit Chiang Rai, a sign that this kind of touring is becoming more popular even during the rainy season.
Cars cover a distance of 1,000 km from Kunming to reach Chiang Rai with a 240-km stretch through Laos to the friendship bridge at Huay Xai. From Chiang Khong, on the Thai side of the bridge, it is just 113 km to Chiang Rai.
Tourism officials estimate three travellers per caravan car with each person spending around THB2,500 per day, while in Thailand.
Around 60,000 Chinese tourists crossed the Huay Xai- Chiang Khong checkpoint from Laos to Thailand so far this year, officials told seminar delegates.
Thailand welcomed around 4.6 million Chinese visitors, last year and the Tourism Authority of Thailand estimates that arrivals could rise to 7.5 million this year.
Most Chinese head for Bangkok, Chiang Mai and beach resorts such as Pattaya and Phuket.
Those who do visit Chiang Rai are more likely to make Chiang Mai their holiday base and book a day-tour to Chiang Rai. They usually cram seven temples and city attractions into the day’s activities, plus the tiring roundtrip 360 km bus transfer.
Even when all nationalities are included Chiang Rai’s tourism recorded just 2.3 million visitors in 2012, 2.7 million in 2013 and 2.9 million in 2014.
The city has 538 hotels and more than 15,000 rooms. There are 161 tourism companies and a pool of 1,307 guides. However, very few are fluent in Chinese.
Source: TTR Weekly
Image credit: Chiang Rai Times