The government will work with the private sector on forging a four-year tourism strategy to restore confidence in Thailand and prepare the country for the Asean Economic Community in 2015.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday that although the number of visitors last year soared 20 per cent to 19.1 million, the tourism industry faced fierce competition, and this called for closer cooperation between the public and private sectors.
The industry has suffered from a series of bad news over the past years, from the airport closure and political instability to the recent floods.
The strategy should highlight two selling points of Thailand, as a cultural destination and a tourism hub in Asean, she told a forum hosted by the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations.
The strategy should also be linked to the local tourism and trade-development plans envisaged and invested in by local administrative bodies.
The private sector should focus more on India and the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) market.
Targeting India could pay huge dividends if Thailand – now a destination for wedding parties – can attract 1 per cent of its 1.2 billion people.
To promote the MICE business, Thailand will host the World Economic Forum on East Asia 2012 from May 30 to June 1. This should create huge demand for luxury accommodations, while the government will use this occasion to persuade large economies to help boost the Thai tourism industry, Yingluck said.
Tourism is the first thing to get foreigners acquainted with Thailand. Later they will make investments in the Kingdom, she added.
Sisdivachr Cheewarattanporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents, said the four-year tourism strategy should also include developing more attractions such as a Disney World and maintaining existing magnets. Thailand cannot get by just by selling its beaches, amid fiercer competition from other Asean countries.
The prime minister should prepare a clear plan with the tourism minister to guarantee proper implementation and budget allocation, he said.
The tourism industry lacks a sustainable development plan and the full support of the government. With better support, more visitors would come to the country, he added.
Somchai Pakapaswiwat, a political-science and economics scholar, urged tourism operators to look beyond Asean in promoting the industry.
They should focus more on countries that have forged free-trade agreements with Thailand such as members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and Latin American countries. Expansion is necessary as the European market is sliding in the aftermath of the debt crisis, he said.
Prakit Chinamourphong, president of the Thai Hotels Association (THA), said there was a chance that Thai hotels could raise room rates by 5-8 per cent this year, in line with the anticipated 8-10-percentage-point growth in occupancy. However, prices cannot be raised much, as tourists have lingering concerns over floods.
“Still, this is an improvement. In 2011, average room rates rose from US$94 to $97 per night,” that is, from Bt2,930 to about Bt3,025, he said.
In Singapore, which boasts average hotel occupancy of 85 per cent, the average room rate surged from $189 to $232.
Last year, the average occupancy rate for all hotels in Thailand was 59.2 per cent.
Surapong Techaruvichit, vice president of the THA, admitted that hotel occupancy did not reflect the 19-per-cent increase in arrivals because of the emergence of non-hotel accommodations such as serviced apartments.
Hotels in the North suffered the most, with occupancy of only 45 per cent, while hotels on the southwest coast, covering Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga, enjoyed the highest rate at 66.5 per cent.