Tourism revival in Thailand risks airport slot overcrowding, suggests alternative options

Photo courtesy of Bangkok Post

In anticipation of the upcoming high season, Thailand’s Tourism Authority (TAT) expressed concerns over the slot capacity at international airports. As more flights are set to resume, it is predicted that the country will receive around 8 million tourists this year, primarily derived from long-haul markets anticipating a significant tourism revival.

The deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas of the TAT, Siripakorn Cheawsamoot, 42 years old, remains hopeful about the revival of international tourism. This optimism arises from the resumption of flights, which are currently at over 70% of the scale observed in 2019, he conveyed.

The TAT’s expectations for overall foreign visitors this year include at least six million people from Europe, one million from the Americas, and an estimated half a million from the Middle East.

Despite gradual improvements in ground handling matters, the main concerns now lie with the potential overcrowding of flight slots during the cool, or high season. The resumption is predicted to reach 85% of the 2019 level, due to a rising number of airlines applying for new slots at popular airports such as Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok and Phuket’s International Airport.

Siripakorn suggested airlines consider other international airports in frequented tourist provinces like Surat Thani, U-Tapao in Rayong, Krabi, and Chiang Mai, to manage the influx of tourists and alleviate overcrowding at the existing terminals.

Last week, the TAT and Taiwan-based carrier EVA Air penned a letter of intent, aiming to augment the number of tourists flying to Thailand via EVA Air’s network. EVA Air is currently running 28 direct flights weekly between Taipei and Bangkok. Half of these flights offer direct connectivity to London, Amsterdam, and Vienna in Europe reported Bangkok Post.

Quoting EVA Air’s president, Clay Sun, the average load capacity for the Taipei-Bangkok route hits between 85% and 90%, while flights from Bangkok to Europe reach approximately 95%. The high demand on this route, served by Boeing 777s wide-body aircraft, comes from travellers from Taiwan, North America, and Europe.

While daily flights between Taipei and Chiang Mai are already operational, EVA Air also plans to inaugurate a new route to Phuket. However, the aviation industry still needs to address challenges including the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war impacting fuel costs, the aim to reach net-zero emissions in the face of limited sustainable aviation fuel supply, and disruptions in the aviation supply chain.

EVA Air, currently with 86 passenger aircraft and eight freight planes, anticipates the addition of 14 more planes by 2027. Clay Sun said these new additions would bolster the capacity in key cities, including Bangkok, in the near future.

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Alex Morgan

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