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12 Dec, 2012

ASEAN, BRICS Surge Set to Help Thai Tourism Cross 20 Million Mark

Bangkok – Significant increases in arrivals from the ASEAN countries, China, Russia and India have helped the Thai tourism industry chalk up 19.7 million visitors in January-November 2012, up 13.57% over Jan-Nov 2011, according to latest figures released by the Ministry of Tourism & Sports. Brazil and South Africa, the remaining two BRICS countries which are long-haul markets, had smaller numbers but significant growth, showing their huge promise as emerging source-markets of the future.


The total target of 20.5 million arrivals for 2012 is well within sight.

The 11-month growth has been largely due to the fact that this has been a crisis-free year, allowing all the marketing strategies to deliver results. It is a special triumph for the Thai tourism industry which has marked the 25th anniversary of 1987 Visit Thailand Year.

Tourism can claim to have delivered all the social and economic objectives of the National Economic & Social Development Plan – poverty alleviation, economic progress and distribution of income nationwide. It has failed, however, to deliver on the environmental preservation objectives and the “sufficiency economy” objectives of King Bhumibhol Adulyadej.

Below is a highlight summary and analysis of the visitor arrivals between January – November 2012, with percentage change over the same period of 2011, tabulated on the basis of arrivals by nationality at all points of entry into Thailand:


Total arrivals of 19,761,794, up 13.57%. East Asia (including the ASEAN countries) recorded 11,164,756 arrivals (market share 56.50% of total arrivals). Europe 4,808,259 (market share 24.33%); The Americas 954,004 (4.83% share); South Asia 1,170,458 (5.92% share); Oceania 953,422 (4.82% share); Middle East 563,743 (2.85% share); and Africa 147,152 (0.74% share).

ASEAN (+8.67%)

  • Arrivals from the ASEAN countries totalled 5,500,884, up 8.67%. Although neighbouring Malaysia recorded 2,233,820 arrivals, a decline of 0.81%, this was more than offset by increases in arrivals from the new markets of Laos (849,360, +3.10%) Vietnam (563,350, +21.98%) and Cambodia (355,664, +49.85%). Even Indonesia was up 19.17% to 401,574.
  • This result clearly shows the future promise of the short-haul ASEAN market and intra-regional arrivals, thanks to visa-free policies, increased airline connectivity and the build-up to ASEAN integration. ASEAN arrivals can only grow as the single market takes shape. Malaysian arrivals, especially border-crossers into South Thailand, will surge the moment peace and stability is restored in the southern provinces.

East Asia (+17.44%)

  • China has become the largest source of visitor arrivals to Thailand, overtaking Malaysia, with a total of 2,526,085, up by a robust 56.38% over the same period of 2011. This was doubly remarkable – it was the highest growth rate of all the visitor arrivals for this period. China is a veritable bottomless pit as a source-market.
  • Japan is now the third largest source of visitor arrivals with total of 1,239,555, up 19.38%. Although the growth rate is a little exaggerated due to the tsunami-related slump in 2011, it does indicate that poor economic conditions in Japan are having little impact.
  • Korea is the fourth largest source of visitor arrivals with total of 1,051,474, up 12.58%. It has become the fifth country to generate annual arrivals in excess of one million.

Europe (+7.80%)

  • Russia remained the largest source market from Europe, with total arrivals of 1,063,727, up 17.57%. It is the fourth country to generate annual arrivals in excess of one million.
  • The UK and Germany ranked the second and third largest sources of visitor arrivals – 772,920 (+2.44%) and 593,052 (+7.63%) respectively.
  • France ranked the fourth largest source of visitors with a total of 516,089 (+12.27%).
  • Arrivals from the Spain grew by 19.84% to 105,676. This, inspite of the poor economic conditions in that country.
  • Europe’s market share has fallen from 25.63% to 24.33% in the period under review and will continue to decline as the Asia-Pacific region surges. However, it will not decline in marketing importance as the European average length of stay is 15 days, nearly double the overall average.

The Americas: (+12.05%)

  • The US is the tenth top source-market of arrivals to Thailand with a total of 676,423 (+10.86%).
  • Brazil showed a good growth of 22.28% to 26,392.
  • Argentina was up 38.86% to 16,050.
  • The South American market is waiting in the wings – small numbers, but strong growth trends. Because it is such an ultra-long haul market, it has a high average length of stay (approx. 11 days) and average daily expenditure (4,300 baht).

South Asia (+10.62%)

  • India is the biggest source of visitors from South Asia. Arrivals were up 10.37% to 924,611. This will cross the one-million mark in 2012, making it the sixth source-market to generate arrivals of more than one million. Like China, it is an almost bottomless pit.
  • Visitors from Sri Lanka grew by 34.07% to 65,652. This is an interesting figure, clearly showing that when peace returns to a country, outbound travel booms as much as inbound.

Oceania: (+13.05%).

  • Arrivals from Australia and New Zealand were up 13.14% to 847,942 and 12.55% to 102,994 respectively. The Australian market is growing thanks to the strong dollar, increased flight connections and marketing strategies designed to help provide alternatives to Bali.

Middle East: (0.30%)

  • UAE visitor arrivals totalled 103,096, up by 1.53%.
  • Other Middle East source markets were up, especially Saudi Arabia (37.26%), Kuwait (16.50%), Egypt (16.91%).

Africa: (+23.33%)

  • The most important source market of South Africa was up 19.35% to 66,868.
  • Other countries are also showing considerable promise with a total growth of 26.86% to 80,284.


The Thai tourism boom began with the 1987 Visit Thailand Year which commemorated the auspicious 5th cycle 60th birthday of King Bhumibhol. Today, as the King turns 85, the Thai tourism industry can claim to be the country’s most successful economic sector. Thai tourism is a marketing genius but its management is still not up to par. Rectifying this huge imbalance will be the biggest challenge of the next 25 years.

In 1988-89, Imtiaz Muqbil researched and wrote two reports documenting the conceptualisation, planning and execution of the historic 1987 Visit Thailand Year and its aftermath. They remain the only English-language publications in print today about that remarkable event. 

Click here to access the reports.