By Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit
In spite of falling spending power, Thais are still planning to go abroad over the next three months to celebrate their long holidays, and the Asean+3 nations are among their favourite destinations.
Starting this month, forward bookings for outbound tours during the festive season are filling up, especially to China, Japan and South Korea. Sutthiphong Pheunphiphop, president of the Thai Travel Agents Association, is confident that the number of outbound tourists for the entire year will grow 10 per cent year on year to 5 million.
Overall, he said the prospects for the final quarter of the year were still good, even as the economic slowdown has hit consumers’ pockets.
The US government shutdown, which resulted in the closure of some tourist destinations in that country and has affected visa processing, has not had any impact so far on outbound tours overall. Few Thais travel to the United States anyway.
Japan is one of the top destinations among Thais after it began offering them 15-day visa-free entry. According to Anake Srishevachart, president of the Thai-Japan Tourist Association, the number of Thai tourists going to Japan rose 59.6 per cent in the first eight months of this year to 220,000 compared with the same period last year. In 2012, the total was 300,000.
Japan appears to be competing head-on with South Korea to capture a big share of Thai tourists. Sutthiphong said Korea was losing its share of the Thai market to Japan. Besides the visa issue, air travel to Japan is getting cheaper.
The launch of Asia Atlantic Airlines in Thailand recently underscored this trend. The airline is owned by Japan-based HIS Group, a travel-agency giant that has a branch in Thailand. The charter airline has two aircraft in its fleet and offers an affordable package of Bt29,999 for a five-day trip to Tokyo or Osaka.
However, HIS Group’s move has intensified competition in the Thai travel market. Thai travel agencies are losing sales to HIS, which is aggressively trying to fill the seats in its new airline.
Sutthiphong said South Korea should review its marketing strategy to draw Thai tourists by discontinuing low-cost packages. It’s true that these have helped boost tourist numbers, but in practice they have proved problematic, with complaints over service quality and, at worst, the stranding of travellers. The result is that the country’s tourism image has suffered.
At present, a tour package to South Korea costs about Bt16,900, but with the good standard of service, such packages should cost Bt23,000-Bt24,000, he said.