Friday, 3 January 2020

Are Tourist Figures Up or Down?

The simple answer is that no one really knows. All tourists staying at both hotels and private villas should be registered on arrival. Thus, the question should be easy to answer. However, the custodian of tourist figures is TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) and they are famous for being far from transparent. Their agenda is to promote tourism, increase revenues; not to publish accurate records.

Any Thailand watcher will have noticed that most stories in Thai Visa and elsewhere have quotes from industry figures, anecdotal comments from hotel owners, but few verifiable facts.

There are figures available on the official TAT website (  if you follow the link in the footer. These show arrivals to all the main international airports in Thailand. The caveat is that they only display the last 2 days compared to the same day last year. For 1st and 2nd January 2020 arrivals are actually up 3.9% on 2019. On 1st January 2020 51,901 people entered the Kingdom of Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport. So should hotel owners, bar owners, tour operators etc. be worried?

Well industry bigwigs such as TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) chief Yuthasak Suphasorn thinks so ( On June 29th 2019 Suphasorn claimed the previous 3 months had seen a drop in tourist numbers. More recently, Thai Visa published an article ( claiming industry experts expect a 20% drop in tourism in Phuket in 2020. Articles such as these are designed to generate comments below the line for Thai Visa Forum and for industry Brahmins to put pressure on the government.

The comments below the line invariably pick up on the same remedies - lower the value of the Baht, change the visa system, reign in the con men and the overcharging taxi drivers and stop making new regulations to inhibit tourism such as banning vaping, enforcing licensing hours, and making life difficult for ex-pats with more burdensome requirements for reporting their whereabouts and income.

All of these things impact tourist revenues. In the past the upswing in tourists from China has off set falls in numbers of European tourists. Indian tourists are also cited as being the new cash cow. Those with just the briefest knowledge of Chinese tour groups and Indian tourists will know that the situation is not that straight forward. For a start those on tours tend to spend most of their money buying the tour in their own country and may well not add much to the local Thai communities where they visit. Moreover, bar girls and others who work in the demimonde find such tourists economically small fry.

On the ground anecdotal evidence abounds. Thong Nai Pan in Koh Phangan had periods during the high season for the summer holidays in 2019 where not a soul was to be seen, the bars empty, the dive boats left at their moorings. People complain in Phuket that hotels are virtually empty but room prices are high. The grizzled veterans of girly bars claim the night economy is not a fraction of what it once was.

Common deflection strategies include mentioning the increased competition from Vietnam as a holiday destination, the trade war between China and the USA, and the impact of Brexit. These are clever ruses to avoid dealing with the Thai Baht that is ridiculously high - getting only 30 odd Baht for one British Pound is profoundly off putting, especially as Thai businesses work on a model of increasing prices every year. And then there is the junta continually changing the rules. Visas are waived and then required. Where you can renew visas is a constant question asked. Confusion over travel insurance abounds, and what the government insurance policy actually provides. Hey you might as well go to Vietnam. Despite having a communist regime, they seem more in tune with the requirements of tourists.

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