Thai tourism figures are up but the focus has shifted away

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Thailand’s Tourism Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn has sought to woo back European and western visitors but came under fire for his plans to extend opening hours for entertainment venues in key tourist hotspots popular with more traditional western tourists. Hoteliers are reporting this year a dip in occupancy rates despite the higher tourist numbers and expenditure reported by the tourism authority.

2019 was a year of warnings from hoteliers in Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai about low occupancy rates. Many hotel insiders remain sceptical about not only 2019 but also 2020. However, the detailed figures from Thailand’s tourism authority compiled from immigration bureau data send a clear message. Numbers are up but western visitors are a permanently shrinking proportion as the Thai tourism behemoth continues to forge markets in Asia.

Thailand’s tourism authority published data this week which showed that the number of tourists for the first 9 months was up by 3.5%. The figures came as a surprise to many expats and hoteliers in Thailand who see 2019 as the watershed year when Thailand’s tourism industry dipped.

This week, the Thai tourism authority published its latest data showing that tourist numbers for the kingdom for the period ending September 30th are up by 3.5% on last year with a 3.45% increase in expenditure.

Figures perhaps make sense

However, the figures, compiled meticulously by immigration authorities perhaps do make sense despite the scepticism of many western expats in Thailand and hotel operators. They reveal that western holidaymakers to Thailand staying at hotels and resorts have become very much, a smaller segment of the market as Thailand’s tourist industry strengthens its focus on Asia.

Year after year, there was applause – 2019 is different

While normally greeted with media applause and an opportunity to highlight Thailand’s prized tourism sector, this year things are different.

Business on the ground for Thai hoteliers throughout the year speak of a different story at odds with the data and figures released by the Tourism ministry. These figures are based on detailed immigration data at the points of entry for foreign visitors including airports and checkpoints throughout the country.

Laos emerges as a key Thai tourism market

For instance, the figures released this week by the tourism authority show a large rise in visitors from Thailand’s poorer neighbour Laos to the kingdom of over 12%. The figures show that nearly 1.4 million people from Laos, a communist country, visited Thailand in the first nine months of 2019. That would be over 20% of the population but of course, the numbers may include multiple visits.

Best Western boss sees ‘dip’ in Chinse tourists

Olivier Berrivin is the Asian Managing Director of Best Western Hotels and Resorts. He says that his group has seen a drop in Chinese tourists this year to Thailand although he maintains the numbers are still quite substantial. ‘The dip is not as bad as some people seem to think,’ he recently told an industry source. He says he expects this situation to continue unchanged through the high season to the end of the year.

64% of all tourism visitors came from the top 5 Asian countries alone in the 9 month period

The figures, released this week, show a rise of 1.71% in Chinese visitors bringing the total for the nine months to just over 8.5 million out of a total for the period of 29.465 million. That’s nearly 29% of the market.

The figures from the tourism body show that the Thai tourism sector is now dominated by Asian visitors with 64% of tourists alone coming from the top 5 markets, all in Asia. These were China, Malaysia, India, South Korea and Laos.

Thai hoteliers report lower occupancy rates 

The figures, therefore, might indicate a rapidly changing tourism market which might help explain the industry feedback from hotel bodies in key tourist areas such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya this year who have all reported lower occupancy rates. These reports also mention the continued development of new hotels and rooms exacerbating an already competitive and oversupplied situation.

Hotel boss sceptical about tourism prospects

Shreyash Shah is the director of business development with the Chada Hotel Group which operates hotels in key locations in Thailand including Bangkok and Krabi. He is sceptical about the future of the tourism market going into 2020 chief among his concerns being competition and lower room rates despite the official figures showing more visitors.

There is also anecdotal evidence from expats and foreigners staying and who holiday regularly in Thailand. They have reported that obtaining bookings for the high season is easier this year with attractive rates and a better spread of choice.

Drop in German arrivals but Europeans including Russians now only accounts for 16% of the market

The figures released by the tourism authority do point to a drop in European visitors with a 3.6% fall off in Geman tourists. Notably, the European tourism market including Russia, now only accounts for 16% of what the Tourism Authority of Thailand sees as its overall expanding tourism market as it pursues and develops new opportunities.

Within those figures, numbers from the United Kingdom were up marginally by 0.84% to just shy of 720,000 visitors but that represents just 2.4% of all arrivals.

Similarly, American visitors were up by 2.3% showing a total to the end of September of 1,159,116 or just shy of a 4% share of the market.

Read the full article at Thai

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