By SUCHAT SRITAMA
THE ECONOMIC slowdown in many countries and tough competition are the key factors expected to continue holding back the tourism industry this year, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand.
“The TCT has voiced its concern over this situation to hundreds of operators. They are also warned to prepare alternative strategies to deal with unpredictable factors,” Ittirit Kinglake, president of the council, said yesterday.
Tourism in 2014 was hit hard by political tensions, especially the declaration of martial law, which caused the country to miss its target by millions of tourists.
However, the latest tourism confidence index from Chulalongkorn University shows that business has climbed back to a normal level thanks to the vibrant travelling environment during the New Year period.
The study also predicts tourism rebounding strongly in 2015.
The TCT is the biggest private tourism body, with 80 hospitality and related associations as well as 122 extraordinary members.
It is also concerned about some other difficulties. It said the formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) would likely not bring much benefit to tourism after it is fully implemented this year.
Internal political problems and natural disasters are also difficult to identify as both are unpredictable.
However, the council is |optimistic for the entire year, projecting more than 28 million foreigners travelling to Thailand, assuming no more crises or serious negative incidents. This would |be a 14.8-per-cent increase from last year. Income from inbound tourists is expected to reach Bt1.29 trillion.
Last year saw arrivals backslide 6.9 per cent to 24.71 million. During the first quarter of this year, 7.55 million tourists are expected to come to the country thanks to the reduction in political tensions. Major sources will be neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as well as from some countries in Europe.
“China and European markets including Russia are key factors for growth this year. If arrivals from these countries plunge, tour operators and hotels will be in bad shape,” Ittirit said.
The TCT has asked the government to help rebuild and drive the industry by granting three short-term measures. The first is restoring safety and security, as this would rebuild tourists’ confidence.
The second relief plan should be streamlining visa approvals in high-potential markets. And the third is offering multiple-entry visas for countries that send many repeat visitors.
For the domestic market, it is hoped that Thais will take 5 per cent more trips – 138 million – and contribute income of Bt800 billion.
The TCT has outlined four plans to drive the industry forward in a sustainable manner. They are developing a “digital economy” for tourism by improving access to data and information, especially for operators; promoting special-interest tourism such as halal food, beauty, healthcare, communities and culture; improving human resources to cash in on the opening of the AEC; and developing tourism networks on both intra-regional and international scales.