This year has been particularly rough for Thailand’s steadily dwindling tourist trade. The surging baht, high ATM fees, bureaucratic hurdles and troubles with the south are just a few reasons why less and less people are visiting the Kingdom.
However using tourist footfall as an absolute metric for success could be misleading. A crackdown on zero dollar tourism took place last year, with a particular focus on Chinese tour groups that prevent their guests’ money flowing into the country. While there are less Chinese tourists it’s unclear how this has affected tourist revenue overall.
A mass hotel renovation project is the first part of the government’s plan to breathe life into the country’s declining tourist trade. It’s not clear what the criteria are for qualifying as a hotel eligible for the loan in the eyes of the government, or whether smaller establishments such as hostels will be eligible at all. The latter will be unlikely to receive loans due to the clientele they attract typically not being the biggest spenders. It’s also unclear how the recipients will be forced to spend their loans on renovations.
The second part of the plan is to attract more tourists, with a focus on China and India with visa exemptions and financial incentives. Encouraging Chinese tourists to flock whilst avoiding the grip of Chinese tour companies is a challenge in itself, as many rely on tour groups to cope with the language barrier. Indians being naturally easier to attract as English is usually their second language. Visa-on-arrival fees for 19 other countries are also being waived temporarily.
According to Wikipedia, tourism from nearly every country has declined since 2018. Chinese tourists have been the most dramatically affected demographic, falling 27%. However it’s Chinese tourists that have the ‘zero dollar’ reputation so perhaps their absence is freeing up accommodation for more valuable tourists. Indian tourists fell by 21% but perhaps we need more time to conclude the effectiveness of the new incentives.
The most dramatic decrease is in tourists from the 10 ASEAN countries, falling by 49%. It’s unclear why there has been less focus on attracting tourists from these countries as they could be considered the ‘low-hanging fruit’. Current ASEAN tourism levels are on par with those from 2014, a dramatic step back from what they would be if the growing trend had continued.
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