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Tourism in Thailand - a first-half review

Wherever you are in the world, the travel industry is susceptible to global shifts and imbalances that leave some industries entirely untouched. In Thailand in 2004, a number of issues gave rise to concern for the industry’s prospects in the coming year. Despite their severity, the events that unfolded at the end of 2004 soon overshadowed these issues. Natural disaster struck Thailand’s shores reeking havoc and causing widespread destruction.

The tsunami that hit six of Thailand’s southern provinces on 26 December 2004 had a death toll in Thailand of 5,300 with more than 280,000 perishing throughout the region. The tsunami putting a temporary stop to tourism in some parts of the country and casting doubt on the travel industry both in Thailand and throughout Asia. Coupled with ongoing issues like rising oil prices, there were some very bleak predications offered for 2005. Despite the anxiety, Thailand’s travel industry proved entirely resilient, and the first half of 2005 produced some optimistic figures. According to a recent Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) report, the number of foreign tourists coming to Thailand in January dropped as expected, leaving 18% fewer visitors on Thai soil. February though showed that January’s dip was temporary as there was a 7% increase in the number of visitors against the same last year. March further showed the resilience of travel in Thailand with a 17% increase. Although unrest in Thailand’s south saw a slight decrease in the number of visitors around April, many analysts are encouraged by the upward trend experienced at the beginning of the year and predict it will continue into the second half of 2005. There are a number of reasons for this level of optimism.

Although events at the end of 2004 did put some tourists off visiting Thailand, most simply avoided areas hit by the tsunami. Tourism was spread thinner across the kingdom, and took in more regions, but numbers of visitors remained essentially the same. As a result, key players in the industry are looking forward to a 20% increase in revenue during the 2nd half of 2005, with some of the ‘trendier’ destinations such as Khao Lak (where the tsunami hit) losing out to Thailand’s more traditional tourism destinations (Pattaya, Chiang Mai. etc.). However, unlike some of the countries affected, Thailand was perfectly positioned to deal with the tsunami and there has been a hasty repair of the destruction it caused. The restoration of Thailand’s islands and beaches has been well publicized on global television and in the world’s press, and alongside high profile events like the testing of Thailand’s new tsunami warning system, there is an increased confidence in Thailand. As the country‘s travel industry advances towards the peak tourism season (starting at the end of September/early October) there is a firm expectation that visitors will return to even the worst hit places, with Thailand’s hotels and airlines working hard offering fantastic promotions and packages to ensure this prediction comes true.

Like the travel industry in general, Thailand’s airlines suffer from even nominal drops in visitor numbers. Coupled with a rise in fuel costs, many have been forced add fuel surcharges to fares to maintain flights to certain destinations. Despite apparent gloom for Thailand’s airlines, creative thinking and cooperation has helped redress the balance. Some airlines are involved in marketing procedures that jointly market a number of airlines, not just their own. Involving airlines from a variety of countries, Thai Airways’ ‘Star Alliance’ is a perfect example of this type of cooperation. This collective approach also helps bring down the price of fuel, helping stabalise fuel costs. In addition, the introduction of web-based booking systems is further driving down costs ensuring airlines maintain their competitive edge in a fiercely competitive market and ensuring the country has the means for a full recovery of its travel industry.

Despite the odds being stacked against a quick recovery, why exactly has Thailand’s travel industry Thailand’s bounced back so readily? Diversity is very probably one of the key reasons for its success through stormy times. Visitors need not search hard for a viable alternative to their favorite destination in Thailand, and after years at the forefront of world tourism, Thailand has the systems in place to adapt and adopt and ensure its travel industry remains flexible and attractive. What then does all this mean for foreign visitors? It means that business is very much as usual. If you have given the prospect of a visit to Thailand even fleeting consideration, consider it further – there’s certainly nothing to stop anyone having a great travel experience. In Thailand, the range of choice is astounding and whatever travel experience you desire, you can find it. With this in mind, take a look further through and consider your travel options. A visit to Thailand might just be exactly what you need…

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