Thailand’s tourism authority faces challenge to boost foreign arrivals

Picture courtesy of Ragnar Vorel, Unsplash

With a significantly decreased budget from its 2019 benchmark, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) faces the daunting task of increasing foreign arrivals from 28 million in 2023 to 40 million in just a year. The drastic goal was deliberated on Tuesday when Chai Wacharonke, a government spokesperson, revealed potential plans to boost arrivals to this figure, spurred by new initiatives like the reciprocal visa-free scheme between Thailand and China.

Yet, the ambitious target remains unofficial as the Tourism and Sports Ministry continues to uphold its goal of 35 million foreign arrivals for 2024. During a record-breaking year in 2019, Thailand saw 39.8 million foreign arrivals and 2 trillion baht (US$ 58,105,760,000) in revenue, thanks to a generous budget of 6.6 billion baht (US$191,749,008) granted to the TAT, as informed by TAT governor Thapanee Kiatphaiboon.

Nonetheless, this year’s budget has been reduced by approximately 20%, standing at 5.2 billion baht (US$151,031,072), despite the significantly higher revenue target of 2.5 trillion baht (US$72,611,092,500). The challenge of matching the arrivals figure of 2019 is a complex task that would necessitate comprehensive discussions with the Tourism and Sports Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol, as well as TAT directors from key source markets like China, reported Bangkok Post.

The TAT’s 2024 budget, bigger than last year’s 3.2 billion baht (US$92,951,680), could potentially face further reductions in the wake of the 2024 Budget Bill debate starting this week. Thapanee expresses the agency’s hopes of maintaining the budget at its current level, given the TAT’s enormous responsibilities in supporting economic growth this year amidst declining revenue from other primary sectors.

The total revenue target of 3.5 trillion baht (US$101,665,900,000) for 2024 includes 1 trillion baht (US$29,047,400,000) from domestic tourism, a boost from 800 billion baht (US$23,237,920,000) the previous year. However, the government has yet to introduce a mechanism to stimulate the domestic market, unlike the 40% subsidy program for local travellers during the pandemic.

The Association of Thai Travel Agents’ President, Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, doubts that the visa-free scheme alone will suffice to double the number of Chinese visitors from 3.5 million last year to 8 million, as projected by the government. He emphasised the need for more aggressive marketing strategies to restore confidence in this market.

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