Thailand: Tourism back on track

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Thailand’s tourism industry is showing early signs of bouncing back from last year’s floods, with figures confirming a significant year-on-year (y-o-y) rise in visitor numbers for the first 11 months of 2011.

Statistics issued by the Department of Tourism show tourist arrivals were up 21.7% on the same period in 2010, which should go some way to allaying fears that the industry could suffer long-term fall-out from the floods. Tourism in Thailand was initially hit hard by the disaster, with estimates putting losses incurred by the sector at up to $825m.

By and large, however, the country’s tourism infrastructure and popular destinations remained largely undamaged by the flooding, which saw 65 of the country’s 77 provinces declared disaster zones. Some sites, however, such as the historic city of Ayutthaya, were submerged for several months during the floods. The city, which has been listed as a UN World Heritage site and dates back to 1350, has undergone extensive work to restore its temples and other structures of interest.

The deputy prime minister of tourism and sports, Chumpol Silapa-archa, told the media in mid-December that Thailand’s tourist sites were largely restored. He also voiced his confidence that the tourism industry would make a full recovery between the year-end holiday period and March 2012, which marks the second phase of Thailand’s high season. “We believe that the flooding is now over and most of the tourist attractions and services in the areas that were flooded are operational and ready to welcome visitors,” he said.

Silapa-archa also highlighted Thailand’s reputation for proving resilient in the face of disaster, saying he believed the country’s loyal following had helped facilitate the tourism industry’s recovery. “In the past, the Thai tourism sector has come back quickly when faced with similar situations. This clearly shows travellers’ preference for and loyalty to the Thailand brand,” he said.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) also made a key contribution to the country’s efforts to raise its profile abroad once the floods began subsiding in November by launching a publicity campaign. The key aim of the campaign, named “Beautiful Thailand”, was to relay the message that while the floods had hit a large part of the country, many of its most popular tourist destinations, such as Phuket and Chiang Mai, had escaped damage while those affected were being restored.

The message was relayed worldwide, targeting markets across Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean, including countries where Thailand is fast growing in popularity as a tourist destination.

Indeed, the Department of Tourism’s figures show that Thailand is proving increasingly attractive to tourists from other Asian countries in particular. Arrivals from ASEAN nations registered the highest rise for the first 11 months of 2011, with a 33% y-o-y increase, while visitors from South Asia were up 20.44% when compared to the same period. Tourist arrivals from Oceania rose by 17.7%, and there were also reported significant increases in the number of visitors from Russia and Spain.

The Chinese New Year holiday for 2012, which took place from January 19-31, looks to have given Thailand’s tourism industry a major boost by bringing in considerable numbers of tourists from Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia. The country’s main aviation facility operator, Airports of Thailand, put the total number of passengers entering Thailand through the country’s airports during the holiday at 2.3m, a 23% y-o-y rise in arrivals.

TAT’s governor, Suraphon Svetasreni, said the authority, which has carved out a role for itself as a bridge between the public and private sectors, puts restoring confidence in Thailand’s tourism industry at the top of the priority list. In a statement, he advocated a strategy of providing value-added services rather than cutting costs, which, he said, would create lasting momentum and keep visitor numbers up for the long term without subjecting players in the hospitality industry to a drop in profits.

Svetasreni said the initiative, which would require public organisations and businesses to come together in a joint effort, was vital for the success of Thailand’s tourism industry.

“All of us in the tourism industry must work together to provide unified, clear messages about the real situation in Thailand to help to build confidence and show that we are open for business and visitors can enjoy their holiday here,” he said. “This will help to protect the jobs of more than 2m Thais working in the tourism sector.”

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