Thai travel agents look to trade fair for revival

THAILAND - The Thai Travel Agents Association is pinning its hopes on the 14th Thai International Travel Fair running from February 20-23 to show the strength of the tourism industry, which has been battered by the prolonged political tension, and to rebuild confidence abroad.

A Thai works on a Bangkok construction site yesterday. The prolonged political crisis could cost the country Bt30 billion-Bt40 billion in lost tourism revenue this year, but the Thai Travel Agents Association hopes the coming 14th Thai International Travel Fair will boost the market.

The annual event at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center is expected to entice at least 250,000 local visitors into spending more than Bt300 million. It will also serve as an indicator of the health of the tourism industry this year, both inbound and outbound.

About 780 booths, including those of tourism promotion agencies from 16 nations, will showcase products and services at the event, which will later move to Chiang Mai, Udon Thani and Phuket.

TTAA president Suthiphong Pheunphiphop said yesterday that the political turmoil was casting a shadow on the event. The spending projection has been revised down from Bt400 million to Bt300 million, while the number of booths is down from 1,000. Some tourism promotion agencies, especially from the Middle East, have backtracked from participating due to fears of political violence.

However, he was confident in achieving its goal. It may be against the political backdrop at present, but what the association will do is ease tensions among Thais and also prove to the world that Thais will continue travelling abroad, reflecting the good prospects for the country's tourism.

However, if the political turmoil continues, it will hurt the overall industry with foreign tourists, especially from Asia, declining 25-30 per cent. Last year welcomed about 26 million arrivals and this year is expected to see 28.01 million.

If the chaos ends next month, the industry can match last year's performance, thanks to a quick recovery.

However, advanced bookings with travel agencies from abroad for the Songkran Festival are not encouraging. So far, its bookings have been about 25 per cent, against more than 50 per cent year-on-year. Even the weaker baht cannot convince them to come here.

Outbound tourism is expected to be similar to last year, with 4.89 million Thais going abroad. Especially over Songkran, several tour agencies reportedly placed Bt24 million to book charter flights to serve projected rising demand, especially to Japan and South Korea.

Of the 4.89 million, 80 per cent are short-haul travellers spending Bt20,000 per head, while 10 per cent are medium-haul spending Bt40,000 and 10 per cent long-haul spending Bt70,000 per head.

However, Thai Airways International will cancel its direct service from Bangkok to Sendai by the end of next month due to the low season. It was launched in early December to test the market, with three flights per week. The operation will be resumed by the end of this year during the winter season. Hokkaido may also be reduced from daily flights at present. Despite the political chaos, most Thais have continued travelling one or two times per year. Middle-income earners, aged 25-35, and families still keep travelling, while high-income people have started to delay trips because they are obsessed with political participation.

Although Thai outbound travellers declined 25-30 per cent during Chinese New Year, that was not an ill omen for the tourism outlook for the whole year.