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Why Thailand tourism is all smiles again

If numbers are anything to go by, they are painting healthy signs for Thailand tourism.

With international tourist arrivals already surpassing 10.4 million and tourist receipts generating 428 billion baht in the first five months of 2023, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is optimistic of hitting 28 million arrivals and 80% of 2019 tourism revenue by this year-end.

“Our focus is not only on the numbers but also on higher-quality tourists, who stay longer, spend more, and disperse benefits to smaller cities,” said Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, TAT’s deputy governor for international marketing (Europe, Africa, Middle East and Americas), speaking at Thailand Travel Mart Plus (TTM+), the annual B2B trade show organised by the TAT last week.

The top five markets for Thailand are Malaysia (1.6 million), China, (1.1 million), Russia (734,996), South Korea (627,760), and India (583,319) for the period from 1 January to 27 May 2023.

In terms of flight capacity, Thailand has already recovered 70% of pre-pandemic capacity to date, according to Siripakorn. He also noted that the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand has reported that the flight slots requested by airlines for the upcoming summer season are showing a notable increase.

Food, glorious food and more

TTM+ 2023 welcomed 374 buyers (+35.5%) and 435 sellers (+60.7%), both figures which were considerably more than last year’s events and reflects the state of recovery of Thailand’s tourism sector, said the officials.

The three-day show was held 31 May to 2 June in Bangkok at the newly revamped Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, after rotating around the country to Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Phuket over the last few years as part of TAT’s strategy to promote provincial destinations.

Food was once again the highlight at TTM+ 2023, which is held under the theme of ‘Visit Thailand Year 2023: Amazing New Chapters’. The 20th edition of the show also marks the first time the Amazing Thailand Culinary City was held alongside, bringing together 30 food entrepreneurs in the food tourism sector to create business matching opportunities and to increase awareness of Thailand’s culinary offerings across each region.

Visitors to the show were able to try food from the participating restaurants The show shines a light on Thailand’s food tourism, bringing together food tour operators, food business and restaurants, as well as famous food blogger Mark Wiens and Chef Ton Tassanakajohn, whose Bangkok restaurant Le Du was named no. 1 in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 list.

A move towards sustainability

TTM+ 2023 also saw TAT’s move towards sustainability while leveraging Thailand’s 5F soft-power foundations – food, film, festival, fight and fashion.

According to Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, TAT deputy governor for marketing communications, participating sellers were required to pass a set of sustainability criteria, including using less waste and plastic, while a greater part of the exhibiting stands were made of recyclable materials. As well, there were booths dedicated for technology as well as net zero tourism.

Pre- and post-show tours are tailor-made to showcase sustainable travel experiences in a wider range of destinations and activities, including adventure travel in Umphang and slow life at Ko Mak in Trat.

The TAT is also planning to roll out a new STAR (Sustainable Tourism Acceleration Rating) system to certify sustainable tourism businesses. “We are working closer with the supply side – hotels, resorts, operators, local communities – to be on the same page to capture more of the market segments that we high value and sustainable.”

Responsible tourism is clearly growing in importance among tourists, noted Chattan. “We don’t want hit-and-run tourism, where everything goes to hell and nobody comes back.”

Emerging markets

Thailand is scaling up its interest in Saudi Arabia, a new market that has opened up after improved bilateral relations between the two countries in recent years. TAT is already hosting two roadshows to Saudi in 2023, and plans to open an office in either Jeddah or Riyadh are in the pipeline once the green light is obtained from the new government.

Amid intensifying competition, the TAT is stepping up its efforts to attract visitor arrivals from beyond key cities in the overseas markets. In Asia, the authority is going to secondary cities such as Lucknow and Ahmedabad in India and Danang and Nha Trang in Vietnam in Asia, whereas for the long haul markets it is heading into Manchester and Glasgow in the UK and Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in Russia.

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