Why Thailand witnesses the largest drop in tourists from Middle East?

The month-long political uprising and the subsequent coup d’etat in Thailand have caused a severe drop in tourism arrivals to the country, according to new numbers released by the Thai Ministry of Tourism and Sports.

The figures are contradicting statements of the Thai Tourism Authority that the tourism outlook has improved since the end of street protests in May when the army took over. In fact, overall tourism numbers were down 10.22% from January to June 2014, making it clear that the country will miss its ambitious target of 28mn visits this year (compared to 26mn in 2013).

The sharp drop can be attributed to fewer visitors from Asean countries as well as from China and Japan, but percentage-wise, the Middle East as a source region for tourists to Thailand recorded the biggest slump in arrivals.

Overall, visits from the Middle East declined in the six-months period by almost 47% from 65,427 to 34,911 visits. Among the most important source countries, visitor numbers from the UAE dropped by 58%, Kuwait by 54%, Egypt by 45% and Saudi Arabia even by 78%.

Qatar is not listed in the ministry’s statistics but the trend is likely to be the same. The disappointing numbers came even after the Thai Tourism Authority staged a tourism roadshow in various GCC countries earlier this year and was one of the biggest exhibitors at the important regional industry event Arabian Travel Market held from May 5 to 8 in Dubai, but obviously with no immediate effect.

Thailand’s tourism ministry permanent secretary, Suwat Sidthilaw, conceded that the political tension since late last year continues to impact the country’s tourism industry, with many tourists still have travel warnings and the nationwide curfew in mind. Poor internal transport infrastructure and well-publicised tourism scams are adding to the problem, he says.

Thailand’s tourism marketing, in the meantime, has done a lot to promote the country among GCC tourists, be it as a honeymoon or wedding destination, as a shopping heaven or as a place for high-end tourists who might want to enjoy 5-star city hotels and beach resorts in the country. However, at the moment, arrival numbers don’t reflect any success of this marketing drive.

From an outside view, vacationing in a military-led country might include a risk of getting dragged into possible unrests or violent clashes, which might be one of the reasons that holds visitors back from coming to Thailand. There is also uncertainty whether new curfews may be imposed or not.

But from the inside, Thailand makes the impression to recover from its inconclusive colour-coded infighting towards a better organised society, driven by a number of internal clean-ups and other initiatives by the military, which — in the tourism sector — include raids to break up local mafia gangs at popular tourism spots, eliminating tourism scams and improving safety for tourists in general.

These are the right actions that could restore trust in a tourism destination which has suffered too long from travellers’ exploitation and deteriorating attractions in the past — it is just interesting that a democratically elected government was “unable” to address this long-time problems and a military regime can get hands-on within a few weeks. Source: Gulf Times