(eTN) Thai people hate more than anything to have a bad image. And, of course, violent outbursts in Bangkok this April and May have cast a shadow on the kingdom’s image of a gentle harmonious society. The Thai government has decided to move forward with a tourism recovery plan and to move quickly.
Thailand’s government has extended a range of measures to promote tourism, including a waiver of tourist visa fees until March 31, 2011 and it has approved a relief package for the tourism industry including loans of US$153 million. Hotels are exempted until 2011 from operation fees, while Thai traveling on local packages from tour operators or paying for their accommodation will be able to deduct up to Bht 15,000 from their annual income tax this year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) was granted an additional budget of US$11.1 million to boost promotion of the domestic market, while airports of Thailand have introduced discount schemes such as the reduction of landing fees by 15 percent. The government will also study tax deductions for MICE organizers.
TAT is also rolling up its sleeves to again attract tourists from overseas and regional markets. According to TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni, TAT is for now concentrating on luring travelers from South Asia and ASEAN countries, as well as Northeast Asia. A huge mega-fam trip will take place with 500 tour operators and media invited into the country from July 12 to 15, with an overwhelming majority coming from neighboring countries. While mega-fam trips have been a classic among TAT marketing weapons after each crisis in Thailand, their efficiency is always unclear. The effect of the latest mega-fam trip in October 2008 was a complete flop, with Bangkok airport’s occupation less than it was two months later.
For now, the most effective way to attract travelers to Bangkok is most likely through bargains offered by hotels. Despite the fact that most hoteliers have rejected deep discounts to stimulate the market, a price war has been going on for at least a month time now with incredible offers: Hilton in cooperation with Zuji is giving 25 percent off its properties in Bangkok; Accor Hotels are offering rooms from US$22 a night and distributing vouchers to its Accor Advantage Plus members ranging from THB 150 (US$4.50) to THB 500 (US$15.4) according to the hotel category. The promotion is valid until September 30 and is dscribed by Accor as “a token to welcome back tourists.” Shangri-La Hotels has launched a special package called “Dream Deal,” which offers limousine transfer from the airport, free breakfast buffet, and free Internet for less than US$200. A special offer of US$122 is also proposed to the travel trade.
Some good news was received recently from the air transport industry – Thai Airways International has seen its average occupancy rise from 50 percent in April and May to 70 percent in June. The airline indicates that advance booking for July and August look favorable. Qatar Airways recently announced it will launch a direct flight from Doha to Phuket, the first scheduled flight from Thailand’s second largest airport to the Middle East.
All these efforts are the first signs of recovery in Thailand’s tourism. According to figures provided by TAT, international passengers arriving at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport totalled 540,788 in the period of June 1-27, 2010, a decline of 6.8 percent over the same period of 2009. It shows that the rate of decline has slowed significantly from May, when visitor arrivals dropped by 19 percent.
Tourism operators are expecting a full return to normalcy by the fourth quarter, so long as nothing more happens in the political arena. Although TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni hopes for 14.8 million international arrivals by the end of the year, up by 5 percent over 2009, tourism to the kingdom is now more likely to finsih the year at the same level as last year – 14 to 14.1 million travelers. Looking back at what the country has endured over the last six months, this will be a great achievement.