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10 Jul, 2006

Hit by Tsunami, Thailand Visitor Arrivals Fall In 2005

Total visitor arrivals to Thailand in 2005 were finally released last week, showing a drop of 1.15% to 11.5 million arrivals. It was the second annual decline after 2003, the year of SARS and the Iraq war.

The decline was triggered by sharp falls in arrivals from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea and Japan which together comprised 42.7% of Thailand’s total visitor numbers. All these markets reported major declines in arrivals in the first half as the country struggled to recover from the impact of the devastating December 2004 tsunami.

Of these six key source markets, visitors from Hong Kong were worst hit, down 33.25% to 438,519, followed by Taiwan (-32.54% to 375,299) and Korea (-10.32% to 815,862).

Less significant single-digit declines were reported in arrivals from Malaysia (-3.42% to 1,341,535) China (-2.20% to 761,904) and Japan (-0.01% to 1,181,913). Both Malaysia and Japan managed to recover well enough to remain above the one million mark.

However, because all these markets are generators of mass volumes, declines in their arrivals dragged down the overall totals of first-time visitors, group tourists and female visitors.

Indeed, the situation was saved by sharp increases in r epeat visitors who totalled 7,151,003, up by 21.85% and bore a direct correlation to the number of non-group travel (independent) visitors (+17.88% to 7,720,238, equal to a market share of 67% of total arrivals).

This extremely encouraging statistic is a clear indication that those who are familiar with Thailand are more than likely to come back again. Visitors from Europe, for example, totalled 2,686,567, up by 2.68%, buoyed by growth in arrivals from key markets like UK and France.

For tourism marketers, strategic planners and investors, the 2005 figures contain much of interest as they begin planning for 2007:

<> Convention delegates were up 256% to 567,621, with strong increases from all over the world, especially from ASEAN and Greater Mekong Subregion countries. The market share of convention delegates has surged from only 1.37% of the total arrivals in 2004 to 4.93% in 2005.

This is the direct result of the massive increase in convention and exhibition space and the strong marketing efforts of the convention centres, as well as the official support being given to national trade associations to bring more international events and congresses to Thailand.

<> Business travellers totalled 917,941, down by 5.98% due to reasons ranging from the after-effects of the tsunami to global economic conditions. Business visitors from all the traditionally important markets fell significantly, e.g., Singapore ( -12.53% to 109,770); Hong Kong (-25.73% to 31,550); Korea (-13.42% to 37,259); Japan (-3.42% to 131,189); USA (-12% to 55,226) and Europe (-4.31% to 150,660).

However, new business-travel markets showing future promise are China (+15.33% to 49,386) and India (+35% to 47,961). Altogether business travellers from all the South Asian countries were up by 31.49% to 69,493.

<> Children under 15 totalled 462,172, down by 15.37%, a clear reflection of the feeling that families with children tend to avoid places where they perceive a threat to safety and security, as many did after the tsunami.

<> However, young people aged 15-24 were up 12.81% to 1,181,183, and people aged 25-34 were up 1.52% to 2,943,762. This shows the attraction of Khao Sarn road and Thailand’s growing popularity as a backpacker destination. Directly correlated to this was a whopping increase of 2,151% in visitors staying at youth hostels, to 51,889.

<> Visitors staying with friends were up 319% to 276,365, indicating the growing influence of the “visiting friends and relatives” market as a result of the country’s rising expatriate population. In the same vein, v isitors staying in apartments were up by 2,257% to 284,427, who comprise either the VFR market or others like foreign executives on short-term contracts.

<> Retirees and mature-age visitors were both down, respectively by 6.06% and 2.84%. However, visitors aged 65+ from key source markets with ageing societies were up, e.g, Japan (+4.3% to 65,888) and Europe (+3.04 % to 117,588).

<> The medical tourism market is also growing, especially from the Middle East, as evidenced by a 12.82% rise in visitors from Saudi Arabia.

<> Female visitors, another critical marketing target, were down 3.96% overall to 4,752,441 but still reported growths from South Asia, the Middle East and Oceania.

<> Visitors from India totalled 352,766, up by 17.52%, a clear benefit of the liberalised aviation policy and growing bilateral flight frequencies between the two countries. Female visitors from India were up by 22.20% to 112,064, and convention delegates were up by 186.72% to 23,408.

<> The economic development of the GMS countries is also leading to increased travel, with Thailand being a primary beneficiary. Arrivals from Laos were up 78.8 % to 208,097, Vietnam (+25.4% to 195,457); and Cambodia (+14% to 112,477).

<> The UK remained the top European market with arrivals of 680,978, up 8.32%, pulling away further from the once leading European market, Germany, which generated 438,552 visitors, down 0.38%.

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