x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Thailand strives to put strife behind it

Tourism agency focuses on recovery and travellers, particularly from the Middle East, are returning after the summer's violence.

There has been a significant rise in the number of Middle East tourists visiting Thailand.
There has been a significant rise in the number of Middle East tourists visiting Thailand.

Thailand is anticipating double-digit growth in the number of visitors from the Middle East this year, despite its tourism industry being hit hard by political conflict that left dozens dead.

Tourism to Thailand from the GCC and Levant countries has surged 9.5 per cent in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period last year to 339,000 visitors, said the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

"From the Middle East, in June, just after the [worst conflict], the numbers have increased," said Pramoth Supyen, the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's Middle East office in Dubai.

Zeid Malhas, the marketing manager at the same office, said: "In July, we have increased [tourists] from the UAE 80 plus per cent in terms of nationals.

"People tried to go to Thailand before Ramadan started. At the same time, people that could not go in May [because of the riots] went in July.

"We are aiming for double-digit growth from the Middle East this year. It's unfortunate [the violence] happened but I think people in the Middle East forget fast." Mr Malhas said numbers fell in August due to Ramadan.

Mr Supyen said the average amount travellers from the UAE spent in Thailand was US$180 (Dh661) a day, one of the highest among global visitors.

A number of factors have conspired against Thailand's tourism sector. The riots in Bangkok left at least 35 people dead and forced many tourists worldwide to cancel holidays. Severe flooding in Thailand in recent weeks has also hit the industry, as has the strengthening of the Thai baht.

Thailand's tourism authority is working hard to revive the industry.

"There is a recovery," said Mr Malhas, adding that visitors to Thailand were automatically insured by the government for up to $10,000 for any harm caused by political unrest.

The destination is often associated with budget travellers. But the tourism authority says Thailand is trying to establish a balance between attracting lower-spending and high-spending tourists.

Thailand is also striving to position itself as a destination for medical tourism, with visitors arriving for surgical or drug treatments that are either unavailable in their home countries or prohibitively expensive.

This month, Istithmar World opened its W Retreat Koh Samui and Residences, which has 75 hotel villas and 17 residential villas and is a partnership with the Thai developer Amburaya Hotels and Resorts.

The W Bangkok property, a joint venture between Dubai's Istithmar Hotels and Golden Land Property Development, will have its delayed opening in 2012.

Other luxury properties that have recently opened in Thailand include the first Westin resort, in Phuket, and a new Hilton hotel. A Madame Tussauds waxworks museum is due to open in Bangkok next month.

"Three years ago you did not find many families going [to Thailand], or it was not looked at as a luxury destination," said Mr Malhas.

"It was known for backpacking, for low-cost travelling. Now we're trying to reach equilibrium.

"Those people who went backpacking before now have the money and they're coming back for luxury." Mr Malhas expects strong demand from the region over Eid this year.

"We do not only promote Thailand to the Middle East but we also do seminars on informing or educating the Thai private sector about the Middle East culture," he said.

There is also an increasing number of restaurants and hotels in Thai cities that serve only halal food, Mr Malhas said.

rbundhun@thenational.ae