To survive, operators must acknowledge the changes and learn about new forms of travel, adjusting their business to fit new trends, said Vichit Prakobgosol, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta).
The group has over 1,600 members offering inbound tourism and package tours.
“We have to design more attractive and varied packages to meet traveller demand,” he said.
“Tourism related to gastronomy, culture, sports and health should tap into demand in each segment.”
Mr Vichit said the number of tourists visiting Thailand via group tour has been growing slowly, but those who come in small groups of 3-5 or less are set for a strong rise.
Last year, the number of arrivals who were clients of Atta members contracted, reaching 5.57 million, down from 5.82mn in 2017.
For the first quarter this year, the statistics also show a plummet in arrivals from many major countries including China, Japan, the UK and France.
Other factors such as the sluggish global economy and strong baht were blamed for the slowdown.
China, Atta’s biggest market, dropped by 12% to some 880,000 visitors in the first three months.
Atta reported a decline in the first quarter for foreign arrivals using the services of its members, totalling 1.53mn this year, down from 1.68mn in the same period last year.
More Chinese are travelling on their own worldwide, including in Thailand. This segment rose to 63% of 10.5mn Chinese arrivals in Thailand last year, up from 59% in previous years, according to the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
“Younger travellers, especially millennials, are travelling more and it is vital for the country to prepare facilities to support wireless communication and safety to attract them,” said the ministry.
Mr Vichit also noted the trend.
“More Chinese are keen on foreign language communication and technology. It is easy for them to design their own trips and stick to a budget,” he said.
“But we need to capture this huge market, which has been an important one for 30 years.”
Mr Vichit is also the president of CCT Group, the first inbound operator focused on the Chinese market.
Next month Atta will organise a roadshow to promote tourism in Thailand in the southern and central Chinese cities of Xiamen, Nanchang and Changsha.
These cities have a combined population of 160mn with strong economies.
There are also direct flights from Bangkok to these destinations.
Roadshows to other markets such as India, Vietnam and the Philippines are also planned this year.
He has praised the government’s plan to extend the waiver of visa on arrival fees for another six months, expecting growth from China and India.
The extension of the B2,000 fee exemption for 21 nations approved by Cabinet on Thursday (Apr 25) is more welcome news. (See story here.)
The extension will help increase arrivals from these two populous nations by 10-20% this year, meaning 11-12mn visitors from China and 2mn from India, as targeted by the Tourism and Sports Ministry, said Mr Vichit.
India has become another big market thanks to more direct flights.
Thailand is a top-five destination among Indian travellers, who travel during the second quarter to escape hot weather.
“This period is our low season, and having more Indian visitors here can maintain our tourism growth momentum,” he said.
Indian travellers spend an average of B6,000 a day, with Chinese spending B6,500-7,000, said Mr Vichit.
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