Free visa news works a miracle

BANGKOK, 20 November 2018: Thailand’s northern provinces have seen an increase in foreign visitors, thanks to the government’s free visa-on-arrival campaign, Thailand’s National News Bureau claimed on Monday.

The report quoted Thai Airways International executive vice president commercial, Wiwat Piyawiroj, who believes the fee waiver for a visa-on-arrival has already boosted tourist visits to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

However, the visa-on arrival fee waiver doesn’t commence until 15 November and will expire after just two months on 31 January. It would take much longer than five days to measure the so-called improvement.

He claimed Thai Airways flights have already seen an increase in bookings by Chinese who will visit Thailand to celebrate the Loy Krathong Festival, 23 November and also for New Year festivities.

Travel industry experts are convinced the scheme will have a marginal impact on tourist arrivals from the 21 countries due to the lack of advance notice between the actual announcement and the campaign’s start date.  They believe the scheme should have been introduced for an entire calendar year to support travel during low-season months.  Also, the true value of the project would be difficult to evaluate during the peak holiday months of December and January, a period when hotel occupancy hits 90% and flights are full.

However, travel industry executives recognise the campaign’s confidence building value, but believe the scheme will fall well short of boosting arrivals from China by another 500,000 as claimed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

There are other factors that will curtail growth. Chinese travellers are paying 10% more for their Thailand holiday packages at present due to an unfavourable foreign exchange rate, while other destinations such as Vietnam and Myanmar are now served by charter flights from China.  The trade war with the US is another factor impacting on outbound travel from China, while safety lapses involving marine and land transport in Thailand are widely publicised on social media channels in China.

Travel executives, who bother look at the monthly tourist arrivals chart, issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, point out that other important markets such as the Middle East have been in decline for two years.  Very little is said about how to reverse the double-digit declines in tourist arrivals from the Middle East despite the region being a high-spend market.

In contrast, Thailand’s travel industry and the government appear to be preoccupied, or even obsessed, with the China market. It is viewed as an easy sell that powered a surge in tourist arrivals surpassing 9.5 million in 2017. But going forward  the travel industry will need to work much harder to create new and innovative programmes that will appeal to a new generation of young independent Chinese travellers who are booking travel directly online rather than through tour operators.