The Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) projects international tourist arrivals to Thailand through its members will decrease by 38% to 1.5 million this year due to the persistence of global economic problems and local political instability.
Consumers crowd a display at the 17th Discovery Thailand & Discovery World 2009, which opened yesterday at Impact Muang Thong Thani. Tour operators, hotels and airlines are offering deep discounts of more than 50% at the fair that runs until Sunday. APICHART JINAKUL
Surapol Sritrakul, the association's president, said advance bookings for the high season had been meagre. ATTA expects the number of tourists the last two months of the year will be lower than in 2007, which totalled 470,000.
In the first 10 months of this year, ATTA reported tourist arrivals through its members dropped by 30% year-on-year to 1.257 million. The lowest point was October with only 89,388.
"Initially, we expected October arrivals of 140,000, slightly lower than last year's 143,746, but the strike by railway workers caused many rail-based tour groups, especially those from Malaysia and Singapore, to cancel their trips," he said.
The incident also affected European visitors who bought rail packages, as they simply moved to other countries.
Mr Surapol added that the greatest plunge in visitors came from South Korea, whose arrivals dropped by 56.5% to 70,526, followed by Japan, off by 38.4% to 135,202, and Finland, down by 37.9% to 8,095.
Arrivals from the Nordic market, an important target for tourism operators, dropped by 13% to 14,280. However, arrivals from the Middle East grew by 5.64% to 44,436. He acknowledged the Middle East is a burgeoning market.
"The challenges for this market are language and facilities in hotels, such as halal restaurants and prayer rooms. We will educate our members to focus on Muslim tourists and teach them how to penetrate this market," he said.
There are 2 billion Muslims worldwide and 658 million of them travel, he said. More than 80,000 UAE visitors come to Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok for medical treatment and checkups per year. These visitors are affluent and love shopping. If Thailand can offer them proper facilities and understand their culture, it will benefit local tourism.
Thailand has only 59 restaurants with halal standards and 26 hotels with halal restaurants and prayer rooms for Muslim guests.