Official figures have not been made available yet, but according to Thailand’s tourism and sports minister, an estimated 29.88 million foreign tourists, including more than eight million Chinese travelers and 60-70% repeat visitors, visited the kingdom in 2015.
That’s an approx. 20% increase in arrival numbers from 2014 and just less than half a percent short of the official target of 30 million arrivals that tourism authorities had envisioned for 2015. And yes, it certainly marks a new all-time record in international tourist arrivals, at least in terms of quantity.
That’s the good news. Thumbs up and period.
But here come the bad news, relatively speaking. While official stats are not available yet it seems like the overall revenue from tourism hasn’t increased at the same pace as the number of foreign visitors has.
That’s not a big surprise either though – busloads of low-spending Chinese tour groups who rush through the country in a couple of days and have only little time to go out on their own – and spend money locally -, do obviously not spend as much Baht per person as the average Western visitor does.
Sure, the tourism minister is as starry-eyed as ever when she forecasts that “international tourist arrivals in 2016 are expected to hit a record high of 32 million.” That would be a nearly 10% increase from last year.
But at the same time, she sounds somewhat cautious when she tells Reuters:
Actually, 32 million is just a calculation. We do not put that as a target because we are now emphasising only revenue.
The marketing strategy outlined by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for the coming year equally focuses on “quality” versus sheer quantity in terms of tourist arrivals. The Nation quotes the TAT governor as saying on Wednesday:
This year, TAT will be focusing on quality, not quantity. We want to increase arrivals by 4% but revenues by 8%.
We certainly wish the man good luck and are pleasantly surprised that he’s identified one crucial problem (sure, there’s a multitude of other good reasons why the average tourist may be a bit more cautious about spending his Baht these days, but that’s not the topic here):
China was the largest source of arrivals with more than 8 million last year, but only 10% of them were “quality” tourists.
Eh, really? This is obviously in stark contrast to a statement by the tourism minister in May last year where she basically said that Chinese “quality tourists” (sic) had become the biggest spenders in Thailand, wasting as much as 6,346 Baht per person each day during their stay in the kingdom.
Needless to say we found the minister’s appraisal a bit hard to swallow eight months ago and feel somewhat, um, vindicated now in our skepticism.
UPDATE – NNT reports now that tourism revenue in 2015 has “increased on an average of 13% compared to the year earlier” and amounted to a total of two trillion Baht. “The touristsâ spending increased to 5,050 baht per day per person from previously 4,500 baht.”
So it’s actually individual tourists’ spending that has increased by approx. 13%, not tourism revenue which, given a 20% increase in the number of tourists, should have increased by a considerably larger margin?
Anyway, if these figures are correct, we cannot really see why tourism officials are deploring an alleged lack of high-spending “quality tourists”?