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Thailand Tourism will continue rising returns from China, ASEAN in coming years; Tourist Court urged amid safety concerns. Good news awaits Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra today: the Tourism and Sports Ministry is set to upgrade projected tourism revenue for 2015 to Bt2.2 trillion.

Tourism Minister Somsak Pureesrisak, who will meet with the prime minister today to present his plans on how to achieve the goal, believes tourism will remain buoyant over the next two years, amid increasing inflows of Japanese and Chinese visitors in light of ongoing conflicts between the two countries.

Tourism revenue is expected to reach Bt2 trillion in 2014, up from the previous Bt1.8 trillion forecast.

"Tourist safety will be on the national agenda," said the minister, who yesterday asked the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to crack down on mafia gangs in Phuket.

Pattaya would be the next target area, as gangsters are now involved in businesses that affect tourists, particularly jet-skis and taxis. He acknowledged that Hong Kong had warned its people to be careful of travelling to the two cities. "That is not good for the country," he said.

Under the plan, Thailand aims to be a tourism hub in Asean, setting out to draw more quality tourists and to encourage them to stay longer. To facilitate this, the proposed Tourist Court must be set up.

The ASEAN hub goal comes at a time when the region is being urged to develop multi-country packages, to allow travellers to experience unlimited variety in terms of culture, landscape, people, flora and fauna, food, handicrafts, entertainment, shopping, recreation and excitement, within the 10 member countries of Asean.

Thailand earned Bt984 billion in tourism revenue in 2012, from 22.35 million foreign visitors. By region, tourists from Europe (5.45 million) spent the highest portion, Bt357 billion, according to the Department of Tourism.

By country, China topped the chart, with Bt106 billion spent by 2.76 million visitors. Most tourists were from ASEAN states at 6.3 million or 28 per cent overall.

The new revenue target is set despite a global economic malaise eating into the purchasing power of tourists in several countries. This has sharply cut demand for Thai exports. But with Thailand having already welcomed 12.7 million tourists in the first half of this year, including 2.27 million from China, private business operators are convinced the industry will remain buoyant and that the new target is achievable.

Piyaman Tejapaibul, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, said new infrastructure initiatives like the high-speed train would boost tourism, as the routes will facilitate travel to major provinces rich in cultural and eco-attractions.

President of the Association of Domestic Travel Yutthachai Soonthornrattanavate said that concrete plans were necessary, though, for long-term development. Policies must be clear and consistent, not swayed by ad-hoc problems. He also urged for a special law to empower tourism authorities in charting development plans. He agreed that safety was a top issue, but said information gathering and dissemination was also crucial.

Sansern Ngaorungsi, deputy governor for Asia and the South Pacific at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), foresaw that Chinese tourists would constitute a major part of arrivals. Despite a slowdown in China's economy, the number of arrivals is expected to hit 4.2 million this year. Plus, tourists from ASEAN would be attracted by city-to-city campaigns.

Chinese tourists in the first half accounted for nearly 18 per cent of all arrivals, against the 11 per cent per cent in 2012.

AirAsia expects to do well from the plan. Tassapon Bijleveld, CEO of Thai AirAsia, said that while China's demand was huge, Indochina also had big potential - as shown by a 35-per-cent rise in regional tourists in the first half.

The trend should continue over the next few years, he said.

Published in ASEAN News
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