TOKYO – 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.
A number of “hidden charm” cities that have until now been largely unexplored by foreign visitors will be promoted as new destinations and offered to this type of traveller, she said.
They include Phetchabun, Lampang, Buri Ram, Chumphon, Ranong, Ratchaburi, Samut Songkhram, Trat, Trang and Chanthaburi.
For next year’s tourism-promotion plan, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) gave a number of examples at the Tokyo expo: Lampang will be promoted as the city of Lanna civilisation in the North, Buri Ram as the city of stone castles in the Northeast, Samut Songkhram as the city of waterways in the Central region, Chanthaburi as the city of fruits in the East, and Trang as the city of jade sea and white beaches in the South.
“For Thailand, the strong point is its people’s way of living and Thai folklore, as well as world heritage,” said Kobkarn, adding that this would meet demand for new destinations from repeat Japanese tourists.
The ministry will also be focusing on niche markets, such as long-stay groups and those who visit for beauty and wellness purposes, she added.
The minister expressed her hope that more Japanese travellers, who are rated as “quality” tourists, could be persuaded to stay longer in Thailand and spend more money.
According to TAT data, Japanese tourists stayed an average of 7.74 days last year, with average spending of Bt4,900 (S$192) per head per day, contributing a combined Bt57.73 billion to the economy.
European tourists typically stay around 15 days, while Asian travellers stay an average of five days.
Meanwhile, TAT governor Thawatchai Arunyik said the authority was now targeting 1.5 million Japanese arrivals next year.
Asian tourists demand weekend destinations where that they can find great food, go shopping and have a beauty make-over, as well as having medical treatment, according to the TAT.
The TAT has set a revenue target of Bt2.2 trillion from tourism this year, as it promotes Thailand as a weekend destination for ASEAN tourists, Kobkarn said.