Singapore: Thailand is one of the favourite international tourist destinations for Indians. The Indian tourists spent almost 70 billion Baht (USD 2.2 billion) last year and 58 per cent of them have been there before with the length of stay averaging 7.45 days. The South East Asian country, this year, is rolling out the red carpet to travel enthusiasts from India.
In spite of martial law, the tourism industry has been booming with strong growth every year except for 2014 when it was in political turmoil and amidst the military takeover. Tourism is a major contributor to the Thai economy accounting for some 18 per cent of its GDP. It is projected to end 2018 with about 41.5 million visitors- up some 17 per cent from a year ago (official figures are not out yet for December). If projections are correct, it would have grown almost 70 per cent since 2014 – a very enviable statistic for any country.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) continues its aggressive and relentless push to increase visitors year after year and for this year, rolled out the “Hidden Shades of Amazing Thailand” programme. The programme invites travellers to indulge in unique experiences and aims at four segments of travellers. To target first-time travellers, a new website – www.firstvisit.com, was launched. The second groups are couples planning to exchange wedding vows abroad and honeymooners. About 300 Indian destination weddings took place in Thailand in 2018.
Thailand is attractive to such tourists because it is inexpensive, and its landscape is dotted with many scenic and romantic locations. “My wedding in Thailand” website was launched to encourage more such visitors. The other two groups are women travellers and family holidaymakers.
Indians are ranked sixth among nationalities visiting Thailand with over 1.6 million visitors in 2018. This is just behind Japan and ahead of Russia. This is a marked increase from 11th place and 500,000 visitors ten years ago. Most Indian visitors to Thailand travel independently instead of joining tour groups.
Indian leisure travellers generally go shopping and sightseeing in Bangkok and Pattaya with an increasing number also heading to Phuket, Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Chiang Rai, Krabi, Ayutthaya and Ko Chang (Trat). Recently, it has been observed that the number of Indian film-makers, MICE delegates, wedding parties and honeymooners have increased significantly.
TAT is very excited about the potential growth of Indian tourists due to its burgeoning wealth and the growing affluence of the middle class with numbers travelling abroad increasing as a result. It plans to embark on “Amazing Thailand” roadshows in August to Tier-II cities—Ahmedabad, Pune, Amritsar and Bhubaneswar as part of TAT’s strategy to tap the potential of India’s secondary cities.
This is in addition to the 70 Thai exhibitors who took part in the South Asia Travel and Tourism Exchange (SATTE) at the India Expo Centre in Greater Noida earlier in January. SATTE is the leading travel trade show in South Asia. It is organised by UBM India, a major exhibition organising company. This year is the 26th edition and was attended by 1,000 exhibitors and representatives from over 50 countries and 90 cities across India.
The 70 Thai exhibitors include hotels and resorts, tour operators and travel agents, airlines and tourist attractions. The number of exhibitors is up from 54 in 2018 confirming that many in Thailand believe in the potential market for Indian arrivals. This year marks the 11th year Thailand is present at SATTE.
For Thailand, the highlight of the event is winning the “Best Foreign Destination 2019” award along with Australia from a shortlist of 11 countries.
Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor, said, “We are very proud to be recognised thus by senior leaders and executives of India’s top travel institutions. It will go a long way to bolster our strong marketing and promotional efforts across India.”
“We want to change the perception of Thailand in India from a ‘cheap destination’ to a more value-for-money destination. We want to move away from a mass tourist destination to a niche destination. After in-depth research on Indian travellers’ behaviour, we have identified some lesser known destinations and have formulated a strategy to promote them. I feel we will be able to achieve two million Indian tourists by the end of 2019, a year earlier than the previously set target of 2020,” Supasorn added.
To give Indian visitors a reason to return, TAT plans to promote less popular destinations in Thailand. They have noticed the emergence of well-heeled Indian travellers who are experienced and discerning and willing to venture beyond the long-standing Bangkok-Pattaya circuit to new destinations such as Chiang Rai, Rayong, Trat, Hua Hin and Samut Songkhram.
The Thai government recently extended the waiver of the 2,000 Baht fee for visa-on-arrival from November 21, 2018, to April 30 this year. The waiver applies to Indians as well as 21 other nationalities.
What has also helped fuel tourism growth from India is the fact that bilateral airline capacity is at an all-time high with 307 weekly flights between Thailand and 16 major cities in India, served by 13 airlines including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Thai Smile, Bhutan Airlines, Druk Air, Jet Airways, Air Asia, Spice Jet, Thai Lion Air, Indigo, NokScoot and GoAir.
Thailand expects to welcome five million Indian visitors by 2023.