Why Thailand’s 10 million travellers could be ‘the next big thing’ in APAC

Outbound travellers at Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport

While outbound travel from Thailand is set to hit 10 million this year, some destinations are still lagging in marketing efforts and visa policies targeting the market, according to a report on The Next Big Thing in Asia-Pacific tourism by Imtiaz Muqbil, executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire.

The report shows that outbound travel from Thailand, including both Thai citizens and the thousands of middle-upper income expatriates, hit 8.2 million trips in 2016, almost double the 2011 figure.

Outbound travellers at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

The number is estimated to have crossed nine million in 2017 and is heading for 10 million in 2018, assuming that the global, regional and local geopolitical/economic situation remains stable.

Ease of access will become a major determinant of future destination choice. Japan, which eliminated visas for Thais in 2013, has become the fastest-growing destination for Thai travellers. The destination is followed by South Korea, Taiwan and Russia.

The report observes that these countries are stepping up marketing and promotional campaigns to narrow the significant gaps between the number of their tourists visiting Thailand and the number of Thais visiting their countries.

However, while most Thais know that they can get visa-free access to their neighbours in South-east Asia as as well as to North-east Asian destinations, they still do not realise they can get relatively easy access to several countries in Latin America and Africa, the report says. It hence urges countries on both distant continents to put more focus on marketing to Thai travellers.

The report also blasts the visa application processes for Europe, the UK, North America, Australia and New Zealand as being “insulting, offensive and expensive.”

“Nearly 90 per cent of the documentation required is identical, with complicated variations in the rules and regulations. Technologically, it should be possible for some kind of a single-visa system to be worked out. Aside from being a money-spinning profit centre, it is not clear what security or immigration threats these visa-requiring countries are hoping to alleviate,” the report remarked.

“Some of the questions asked in the application forms are totally irrelevant. The requirement for proof of financial support is also questionable in an era when thousands of well-off Thais are well-armed with credit cards and far better off financially than citizens of the visa-requiring countries.”

South Asian countries are also urged to clean up their visa policies. “South Asia as a whole gets dragged down because only the Maldives gives visa-free access to Thais. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka all require visas. Although India and Sri Lanka have online visas, cumulatively, the cost and time factors involved in getting visas reduces the appeal of these countries vis a vis competing countries.”

The report further notes the big gap between the number of airlines flying to Thailand (118 as of the winter 2017/2018 airline schedule) and the number of foreign NTOs having full-time or marketing representative offices in Thailand (only 12). A handful of other countries have separate arrangements such as through appointed GSAs.

Meanwhile, the report highlights the enormous promise of road travel as the completion of the Asian Highway allows Thailand to take advantage of its unique geographical location at the heart of South-east Asia, with strong overland connectivity to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

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