Japanese travel agents seek Thai govt's official assurance of safety

Japanese travel agents seek Thai govt's official assurance of safety

Japanese travel agents have urged the Thai government to issue a statement assuring visitors of their safety while martial law remains in force.

Meanwhile, Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul aims to get Japanese tourist arrivals back on target at 1.3 million visitors this year, as part of a short-term tourism-promotion plan aimed at boosting the country's economic growth.

"We've received good feedback from Japanese tour operators, reflecting that Thailand is still a target destination for Japanese tourists," the minister said after meeting with Japanese travel agents and leading tour operators on Thursday.

She added that most tour operators understood Thailand's political situation under martial law.

However, they want the military regime to issue an official statement giving an assurance that it would be safe for tourists to travel to Thailand despite the martial law, so that they could send such a message to their clients.

As a new minister under the military-led government headed by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Kobkarn hopes that visitors from Japan - one of the Kingdom's major markets - will return now that the prolonged political conflict has abated and the newly formed interim government is taking the country forward.

"Since the new government was formed, many [tourism-related] problems have been fixed, such as beach encroachment by small-business owners, taxi services at airports, and public transport," she said.

Japanese arrivals fell 20 per cent to 807,909 visitors in the first eight months of the year, double the overall year-on-year drop of 10 per cent to 15.7 million arrivals from all markets.

The sharp decline in visitor numbers was mainly due to the political unrest centred in Bangkok and subsequent coup on May 22.

Before this year's disruption, Japanese arrivals had increased significantly from 993,674 in 2010 to 1.54 million last year.

During her first overseas trip as minister, Kobkarn participated in two annual tourism events - "Amazing Thai Night" and the three-day "JATA Tourism Expo Japan 2014", which ends today - in a bid to restore Japanese tourists' confidence in the Kingdom, despite the decision to maintain martial law.

She said she wanted to send a message that Thailand was ready to welcome more tourists and provide them with safety and convenience, in addition to new products called "hidden charm" cities.

Kobkarn said about 70 per cent of Japanese tourists were repeat visitors who sought a sense of "Thainess", which tied in with the government's policy of focusing more on the "Thai way of living" theme next year.

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