Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thailand's tourism outlook is gloomy

CHADAMAS CHINMANEEVONG

Thai tour operators still hoping to sell New Year packages are likely to be disappointed because growing economic problems are discouraging tourists from travelling and spending.

Bookings of outbound tour packages during the Christmas and New Year holidays are expected to drop at least 50% from last year. Domestic tour bookings are also likely to fall at least 30%.

The Association of Domestic Travel (ADT) and the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) have both said that operators are facing hard times and some would be forced out of business if conditions do not improve next year.

TTAA president Charoen Wangananont discussed conditions recently with 20 top local tour operators. The consensus was that bookings for long-haul destinations such as Europe, Australia and New Zealand are now expected to plummet more than 50% in the festive season.

"Japan, which is popular among Thai tourists, is falling by 25% because the package prices are 7,000 to 8,000 baht higher per trip, resulting from the strong yen against the baht," he said.

At this point, he forecast that the number of outbound tourists would decline by at least 10% this year to 3.6 million.

Thai tourists have tightened their belts because they are not confident in the future economic situation. "We will feel the real impact of the global economic crisis next year," said Mr Charoen.

Mr Charoen said smaller operators had already begun to fade out because of insufficient cashflow.

ADT president Maiyarat Pheerayakoses, meanwhile, says that only 60% of available packages are booked for domestic destinations so far. Normally, these packages would be overbooked by now.

"If the problems remain until next year, many companies will go into debt restructuring and lay off staff," she said.

Patcharin Ounson, a jewellery company employee, said she and her family would go to Chiang Mai for New Year instead of Japan as planned. It's the first time in eight years that the family has not gone abroad. "We must save for the future because we don't know what will happen," she said.

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