By SUCHAT SRITAMA
THAILAND is taking on the role of the driver of the hospitality business in the Asean Economic Community, which is expected to ignite an explosion in tourism.
Locally, stakeholders are beating the drums for the establishment of an AEC Tourism Centre to capitalise on the integration of the regional market and to strengthen and diversify strategies to maintain the country’s spot on the global tourism radar.
Southeast Asia will become an emerging destination for the global market and the Thai tourism industry will continue to grow over the next three to four years, according to the Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata).
Arrivals in Thailand are expected to pass the 30-million mark for the first time next year, with 31 million visitors forecast, up from 28 million this year.
Thailand is expected to be fifth-largest market in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of visitor numbers and the fourth-biggest in Asia this year and the next four years.
The international tourism association also predicts arrivals to Thailand to climb to 35 million in 2017, 40 million in 2018 and 47 million in 2019, ahead of some other popular destinations in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
From 2015-19, China will remain the top source of visitors in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Thailand’s tourism has surged over the past 10 years despite facing crises many times. Some other countries like China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam are following the same path,” Mario Hardy, chief executive officer of Pata, said yesterday.
The Thai government and tourism authorities should improve infrastructure to deal with the need for connectivity and the growth of transport, he said. The country has to enhance water and waste management, as some destinations suffer from water shortages during the high season.
New attractions in second-tier provinces are needed to help spread tourists to new places.
“Thailand should also focus on quality tourists. The country needs to diversify its marketing strategy by approaching new markets instead of going for the masses,” Hardy said.
Surapong Techaruvichit, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said tourism in Southeast Asia would grow dramatically over the next several years thanks to the variety of products that can serve every market.
The formation of the AEC’s single market will push all countries to work together and cooperate more, especially to attract tourists from third countries.
Some major local hotel chains such as Dusit International and Onyx Hospitality as well as Bangkok Hospital Group are expanding in the region.
In the region, Thailand is one of four mature markets along with Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. These countries are set to adopt new roles to help drive tourism in the region.
Charoen Wangananont, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), urged all stakeholders to establish an AEC Tourism Centre in Thailand to provide investors in-depth information on each country in the region.
The opening of the AEC in 2016 may not bring immediate change to the region, but all the countries should consider some common agreements such as a single visa, open-sky implementation and cross-border investment.