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BUSINESSES are calling on the government to come up with incentives to shore up the tourism industry, such as further liberalisation on visas that include fee waivers for citizens of countries that are still required to apply.
The appeals were made after Thailand recorded only slight growth in visitor number for the first two months, following a downturn last year.
The number of tourists visiting Thailand in January and February was 7.29 million, up 2.53 per cent from the same period of last year, and tourism-based income edged up 0.77 per cent to Bt387 billion.
Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), said that, in the first quarter of this year, the number of foreign visitors is expected to improve slightly from the same quarter of last year, with close attention paid to the inflows from China.
Throughout the year, the number of Chinese visitors is expected to be at least 11 million, and the inflows are projected to have returned to normal in March. At least 1 million Chinese visited on each the first two months of the year, and this slightly lower than for the same period a year before.
Tourism operators, including tour agencies and hotels, are worried that the industry will grow only slightly and is need of government stimulus measures, particularly visa-fee exemptions for those visitors who do not enjoy visa-free conditions.
In the second quarter of this year, the tourism industry is forecast to continue facing the hazardous dust problem, particularly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which are the main destinations for Chinese and other foreign tourists.
Aside from the need for urgency in easing the air pollution, Thailand should carry out proactive marketing strategies through visa measures such as visa-on-arrival (VOA) fee exemption. Advocates of the VOA fee exemption are proposing to the Cabinet that it extend the expiration to October 31. The initiative is set to expire on April 30.
Ronnachit Mahattanapreut, senior vice president of finance and administration at Central Plaza Hotel Plc, which operates its hotels under the banner of Centara Hotels, concedes that the overall hotel business in the first and second quarters of this year may be worse than in the same periods of last year.
Tourism in the first quarter of this year has suffered the lingering effects of a slump in Chinese arrivals, triggered by the sinking of a tour boat off Phuket that killed dozens of mostly Chinese visitors in the second half of last year. There has also been the impact of the US-China trade war, which has prompted Chinese tourists to bargain more on hotel rates, Ronnachit said. As well, troubles in the Russian economy have affected visitor numbers, and new hotels have been added in every tourism city.
“Thai hotel business in the first half of this year is different from the first half of last year, which was relatively very strong,” Ronnachit said.
“The number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand in the first two months had not much growth compared to the same period of last year, with a relatively high base. We hope the situation will improve in the latter half (of this year) from the stimulus measures on the tourist market, particularly the VOA fee exemption measure, on which the government is considering an extension.”
Hotels under the Centara Hotels brand have launched marketing campaigns to attract foreign tourists from other countries to make up the slump in Chinese travellers. The promising markets that the company has identified include India, South Korea, Japan, France and Germany.
Other potential problems for the hotel business include the country’s political uncertainties, which could affect the meeting, incentive travel, conventions, and exhibitions segment.
In the first quarter of this year, before the March 24 election, the foreign MICE market has slowed down slightly as people waited for a clearer political situation to emerge. More events are expected to be held after a new government is formed.