In a trend that has continued into 2012, Thailand’s remarkably resilient tourism industry showed itself to be largely unaffected by the country’s devastating floods last year, giving a strong performance that produced year-on-year increases in both arrival numbers and revenue.
The industry, which forms a key component of the economy, is now set to receive a further boost following the introduction of a master plan that has been designed for the sector by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports.
The major initiative, which should be given the green light by the Office of the Prime Minister within the month, is expected to be instrumental in helping the industry meet the government revenue target for the sector of BT2trn ($63.9bn) by 2015.
Government figures show that Thailand earned BT776bn ($25.45bn) in tourism receipts in 2011, which was a 31% year-on-year increase and was well above the BT716bn ($23bn) target. The ministry also said that the number of visitors to the country reached 19.23m in 2011, up 20.7% on the previous year.
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Suwat Sidthilaw, said that six action plans focusing on marketing campaigns, tourism attractions, logistics, facilities, and products and services would be rolled out under the ambitious project.
The initiatives will be introduced in partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), which have already put forward 28 projects under the plan, together with the Tourism Department, the Royal Thai Air Force and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. Plans aimed at increasing sector infrastructure and improving signage and route plans around major attractions are also in the pipeline.
The largest share of industry revenue came from European tourists who generated 38.23% of receipts, according to the ministry. Visitors from East Asia came second, producing 37.33% of receipts.
Russia was the most lucrative European market, with arrivals in 2011 increasing by more than 63% in a year-on-year comparison, largely due to a rise in the numbers of charter flights between the Eurasian country and Thailand.
While travellers from Middle Eastern countries were responsible for just 4.29% of total revenue, they produced some of the largest per capita daily spenders. Visitors from the UAE ranked at the top, spending an average $175.21 daily, followed by tourists from Saudi Arabia, who contributed $166.92 per day. Kuwait also featured in the top 10, with an average daily spend of $159.66. Russian tourists spent $140.92 on average per person.
In addition to revenue increases, Thailand’s arrivals are also hitting new highs. Data from the ministry showed that visitor numbers for the first six months of 2012 were up 7.21% year-on-year, reaching 8.87m. Total arrivals for January stood at 1.9m, which marked a new monthly record, while March had the highest year-on-year growth, at 11.99%. Buoyed by the figures, the ministry now expects total visitor numbers for 2012 to reach 20.5m.
Visitors from other East Asian countries have traditionally dominated Thailand’s tourism industry, with the highest numbers coming from Malaysia. However, according to the TAT, Malaysia moved into second place for the first time as China claimed the top spot for the January to June 2012 period.
The authority’s figures, which were released in July, showed that the number of tourists visiting Thailand from China reached 1.12m, topping the 1m-mark for the first time over a six-month period and marking a year-on-year increase of 28.9%.
Officials believe that China will maintain its spot as the top source of incoming tourists to Thailand. “All the markets are doing well, but growth of the China market is phenomenal,” Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, the head of the TAT’s International Relations, told Chinese news agency Xinhua in July.
He added that with data showing the Chinese were not only visiting Thailand in growing numbers but also spending more, the TAT planned to work with hotels and tour companies to promote tourism and make the country more accessible to Chinese nationals.
Thailand’s new master plan should provide the foundations for the country to continue building its successful tourism industry. The governing tourism bodies are likely to maintain the focus on attracting a diverse range of visitors from both proven growth markets, such as Russia and China, and the traditionally strong East Asian sources, while also improving industry-related infrastructure.