BANGKOK, 28 January 2020: There are certainly devils lurking in the details of Thailand’s tourist arrival statistics for 2019.
On the surface, welcoming 39.79 million tourists and clocking up a 4.24% increase to boot deserves an okey-dokey slap on the back for the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. But does it?
Whether you look at the 39.79 million visits rising 4.24%, or the revenue improving 3.05% to reach THB1,876,136.90 million, there are some alarming trends once you move past the headlines.
Yes, China remains the top generating market with 10.9 million visits up 4.36% and revenue hitting THB543,707.33 million up 4.78%, and there are another 10 countries delivering 1 million visits each to Thailand’s border checkpoints. Move to the details and discover that of all the 11 top nations on the 1 million a year plus list only two are located outside of Asia — Russia (1.48 million) and the USA (1.16 million).
Among the top five supply markets, China dominates with almost 11 million visits, and if the novel coronavirus retreats during the first quarter of the year, Chinese visits to Thailand could top 12 million by the end of the year.
Malaysia is the second-largest supply market after China with 4.16 million up 3.64% followed by India in third place with 1.9 million visits up by a remarkable 24.85%. Korea in fourth place delivered 1.88 million up 5.09%, and Laos in fifth place accumulated 1.84 million visits an improvement of 10.86%.
As for the devil in the details, annual visits and revenue data in recent years confirmed a steady almost unrelenting declines in travel from Europe and the Middle East.
Europe’s 6.71 million visits to Thailand slowed yet again in 2019 this time by 0.61% and revenue declined 2.43% estimated at THB461,478.75 million.
On the surface comparisons with China’s almost 11 million visits and THB543,707.33 million revenue look forlorn but dismiss the arrivals and focus just on the revenue. The gap shrinks considerably. By improving travel arrivals from Europe by a few percentage points, Thailand would earn a generous upswing in earnings. Easier said than done.
Thailand’s tourism planners and industry leaders preferred to take refuge in the Asian travel boom and took their eye off the ball in Europe. Browse the statistics listed under Europe. Russia is the only European nation delivering positive growth in tourism earnings with 13 other European markets reporting negative revenue. Checking the tourist arrivals side of the chart out of 14 countries, identified by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, just five delivered positive visit results in 2019.
Prime markets such as the UK once a bright star for Thai tourism saw a growth of just 0.73% in tourist arrivals. Spain delivered the highest growth rate at 3.92%. Germany traditionally the strongest performer in Europe saw visits to Thailand drop 3.28% and Switzerland always a healthy niche market fell 7.88%.
Little is said about declines from Europe evident over the last few years indicating the blame is not entirely linked to recent foreign exchange fluctuations, Brexit or a softening EU economy.
Also, Thai tourism leaders in financial outlay terms far from ignored Europe. The biggest promotion budgets and expenses were splashed out on attending ITB in Berlin and the WTM in London along with a host of other travel marts, conferences, TV campaigns and must-attend roadshows.
Despite these campaigns and the substantial investments in maintaining an expensive network of Tourism Authority of Thailand offices across Europe the massive sums spent over the last five years failed to reverse the negative trend in arrivals and tourist spending. Is it time to revisit the annual tourist arrival data and ask why the tale of the tape, as far as Europe and the Middle East markets are concerned is negative? Do the latest figures indicate an impending freefall?
*To download the MOTS table