Thailand Welcomes 16 Millionth Visitor
As Thailand officially welcomed the 16 millionth foreign visitor in 2015 on Wednesday, the country seems well on its way to break all previous tourist arrival records this year. And no, it wasn’t a Chinese on a package tour arriving on a charter flight. It was a young Frenchman and his girlfriend.
The photogenic couple, travel blogger Richard Barrow reports, arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport early Wednesday evening and were given an elaborate welcome by representatives of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and partners in the “Thailand’s Luckiest Visitor” project. The TAT reports on its website:
The activity is designed to support the “2015 Discover Thainess” umbrella campaign, which aims to highlight the endless charm of Thailand, the diversity of destinations, full flavours of Thai cuisine, fascinating uniqueness of the traditions and culture, as well as the friendliness of its people.
Thailand’s 16 millionth “luckiest visitor” and his girlfriend were “pleasantly surprised” as they won a free five-day holiday in Thailand including two return air tickets, and some other prizes from TAT’s partners in the campaign.
Good on them. Who wouldn’t appreciate a few freebies and a bit of VIP treatment? And certainly good for Thailand. 16 million foreign tourist arrivals in just the first six and a half months of the year is an impressive new record for Thailand. But let’s have a closer look at the situation on the ground.
Thailand Tourism Statistics April-May 2015
Preliminary figures suggest that Thailand has welcomed 15.81 million visitors between January and July 12. This mid-year record high marks a 30.31% increase over the same period of last year and shows that the country is well on its way to achieve its ambitious target of 28.8 million tourist arrivals this year. Who knows, they might even hit the 30 million mark until the end of the year?
The Department of Tourism is usually a bit slow to update its visitor statistics and only last week published arrival numbers for the months of April and May. But the figures here are just as impressive – at least on the face of it.
Only in April, Thailand recorded 2,289,601 international tourist arrivals, a 18.34%-increase year-on-year. As was to be expected, this surge was fueled primarily by an 80%-increase in Chinese visitors (601,169 tourist arrivals) and visitors from East Asia (up 37.72% year-on-year). Arrival numbers from India (19.54%) and South Asia (17.61%) as well as the United States (10.70%) also grew considerably.
On the downside, arrivals from Europe and Australia decreased by 16.77% and 15.47% respectively year-on-year. Visitor numbers from Russia, previously one of the kingdom’s main tourism source markets, declined by nearly 50% and accounted for a meagre 58,314 arrivals in April. What is worse: Tourist numbers from all but two (!) European countries were down in April.
The arrival numbers for May were just as impressive as the April stats on paper – 2,309,250 arrivals or a 38.21%-increase year-on-year. Again, the growth was fueled mostly by Chinese tourist arrivals (668,079) which increased by 120.62%, and visitors from other East Asian countries (57.08%). Arrivals from India (17.11%) and South Asia (16.24%) as well as the United States (21.23%) also grew considerably.
Russian tourist arrivals, again, were down 34.38% in May. But, to sweeten the bitter pill, the overall decrease in tourist arrivals from Europe (-3.42%) and Australia (-2.98%) was less severe than in April. Wow.
Hotel Occupancy Rates Down to 30% in Pattaya
So the tourist numbers aren’t just good – they’re better than ever. Then why, many Pattaya-based observers may wonder, where do all these hordes of tourists go? Obviously not to Pattaya, which seems quieter than ever this time of the year. Granted, it’s low season, but this year it’s surely a bit lower than usual. Empty bars and beaches, vacant shops and businesses with “for rent” or “for sale” signs wherever you look.
Sure, Pattaya misses the (Western) Europeans and Scandinavians which seem to have been put off not just by “the Russians” and negative headlines made in Thailand on a nearly daily basis but, first and foremost, by weak Baht exchange rates. Pattaya has never attracted the wealthy but primarily low- to middle-income groups – groups that suffer most from weak exchange rates and the relative inflation. As a result, Pattaya is no longer as cheap as it once was. And the sharp increase in visitors from China obviously cannot make up for the even sharper decline in tourist numbers from Europe.
The Bangkok Post today quotes the president of the Eastern chapter of the Thai Hotels Association (THA) as saying that
the big jump of Chinese tourists in Pattaya could not compensate for the fall in Russian and European travellers in term of spending per trip and length of stay.
In fact, the numbers are pretty alarming. According to the report, Pattaya currently has an oversupply of “about 2,000 hotels with 136,000 rooms” and
the occupancy rate of local hotels in Pattaya [in June 2015] stood at 30%, with some seeing occupancy as low as single digits.
To make things worse: Many locally-owned hotels in Pattaya, the THA complains, are facing increased pressure by Chinese travel agents “with strong bargaining power” to reduce room rates by 30-40%. Only hotels owned by international chains, with “strong marketing networks and cash flow”, reportedly had occupancy rates of “around 65-70%” in June and were able to withstand pressure by heavy-weight Chinese travel agents to slash room rates to uneconomic levels.
So as Pattaya, in terms of tourism, is apparently scratching the bottom of the barrel, will knockdown prices for Chinese tour groups in exchange for continued “quantity” be able to make up for an obvious loss in the “quality” of visitors? We doubt it. On the other hand, unless the Europeans (and we don’t mean the Russians) “rediscover” Pattaya soon again (which would obviously require the unlikely scenario of a strengthening Euro and a weakened Baht), Pattaya may have no other medium-term option available?