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14 Apr, 2008

2007 Thai Visitor Profile Analysis Indicates Six Key Trends

The statistical profile of Thailand’s visitor arrivals in 2007, just made public, clearly indicate six major trends that will impact on existing and future marketing and development plans.

The final arrivals figure for 2007 as tabulated by country of residence, a far more important indicator of travel trends than by country of nationality, is a total of 14,464,228, up 4.65% from 13,821,802 in 2006.

Based on the sheer volume, this is a more than acceptable growth rate. But buried within the figures are these six clear trend indicators:

<> Arrivals from each of Thailand’s six most important source markets fell en masse: Malaysia, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Together, these six markets along generate 40% of Thailand’s visitor arrivals.

Most of the decline was in the first half of 2007 in the lingering aftermath of the September 2006 military coup. Although markets such as China recovered rapidly in the second half of 2007, the damage done in the first half was enough to end the year in red figures.

Arrivals from Malaysia were down slightly, largely due to the situation in South Thailand. Japan has been hit by a broad slump in outbound travel that has also affected numerous other destinations such as Australia and New Zealand, also once high on the Japanese popularity charts.

<> Partly compensating for the declines was the emergence of new markets such as Russia (+46%), Eastern Europe (+37%), Finland (+23%) and India (+17%). The most surprising growth was a phenomenal +84% spurt in arrivals from Laos to a total of 521,062.

This rapid growth is off a small base, however, and in terms of overall volume, these “new markets” pale in comparison to the total arrivals from the major source-markets.

<> In terms of demographics, there was a lopsided 10% decline in women visitors but a 14.8% growth in male visitors.

The fall in women visitors was nearly right across the board, especially from major markets such as Japan (-26%), China (-18%), Germany (-11%), Malaysia (-12%) and the UK (-17%). Even India and the U.S. were down by 7% and 16% respectively.

This decline defies explanation, especially because the Tourism Authority of Thailand has invested heavily in marketing to women by promoting shopping, health and wellness and honeymoon holidays.

Had the decline been concentrated in a few specific markets, identifying a common cause would have been easy. The fact that it struck a multiplicity of markets in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East demands more introspective research and analysis.

<> Visitors at both ends of the age spectrum, young and old, are up significantly. Total visitors aged 15-24 were up 8% to 1.55 million and those aged 25-34 were up 6% to 3.8 million. In turn, those aged 55-64 were up 5% to 1.66 million and the 65+ were up 11% to just under 600,000.

Together, these four age segments now comprise a total of 7.6 million arrivals, or roughly half the total. It is the 35-54 age segment that is stagnant. However, it clearly means continued growth prospects amongst the backpackers and retirees.

<> Another big surprise was a 29% fall in the number of delegates who identified themselves on the E/D cards as coming to attend conventions. As the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau has spent heaps of money to attract conventions and convention delegates to Thailand, and so have the many new convention centres, this decline was quite unexpected.

Significant declines were seen across Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. Although the actual base figures are small, convention delegates are usually high spenders, making this decline doubly significant in terms of economic value.

However, business travellers remained strong, +5.9% to 1.26 million.

<> Finally, there was a sharp growth of 13.7% in first-time visitors to 5.6 million and a fractional decline of 0.46% in repeat visitors to 8.8 million.

This is extremely encouraging because it shows that Thailand continues to attract “new” visitors, even from those markets that reported an overall drop, such as Japan, Korea and Hong Kong.

An eye-opening statistic was the 131% increase in first-time visitors from Laos to 67,346, clearly indicating that as Thailand’s neighbour to the north makes economic progress, and its people acquire both the desire and the means to travel, crossing the border to Thailand is their first step.

Other markets with strong growth in first-time visitors were Europe (+33%), the U.S. (+10%) and India (+33%). A 39% growth in first-time arrivals from Australia was also a strong indicator of better things to come from that market.

These arrival trends are the result of many factors, such as the growth in low-cost airlines, the explosion in direct on-line booking facilities, promotion of intra-regional travel, the global boom in youth travel, etc.

In the absence of any geopolitical or economic calamity, the arrivals target of 15.7 million this year should be attainable.

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