Changes to the worldwide travel industry since 2020 are more like back to the future. Industry surveys show travellers are looking for tried and trusted holiday destinations. The success achieved so far by Thailand’s recovering industry is driven by visitors from traditional markets where the country’s nightlife and entertainment sectors have been proven, over the course of the emergency, to be a key factor in the kingdom’s appeal to foreign tourists and the money they leave behind.

The country’s tourism chiefs will present a proposal to the government in September to extend nightlife opening hours only in select and strictly controlled areas in foreign tourism hotspots in a plan designed to increase tourism earnings and attract more western travellers from the country’s key foreign tourist markets. It comes as tourism has emerged as the key to the ongoing economic recovery this year with a poll of Thai Examiner readers since July showing over 77% warning that plans to take the country’s tourism industry upmarket would be a mistake and a ‘recipe for disaster’ if it went ahead.

Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn (left) warns that Thailand cannot take for granted the expected boost in foreign tourism numbers in the high season after October 1st when the kingdom is expecting at least 1.5 million visitors a month. Consequently, in August, there is a proposal to extend tourist visa stays to 45 days and in September a plan to extend nightlife opening hours to 4 am in exclusively designated areas within a number of tourist hotspot provinces subject to local authority control. At the same time, Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss Yuthasak Supasorn (right) has told the media that longer opening hours until 4 am would help facilitate foreign tourists who tend to eat later in the evening before enjoying the country’s nightlife.

Figures released on Friday by Thailand’s University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) showed that the country’s Consumer Confidence Index rose for the second month in a row in July to 42.4% from 41.6%.

This improvement is seen to be the result of rising household incomes driven by an improvement in the economy, which since June has been boosted by the country’s full reopening to foreign tourism.

Economic growth of 3.1% projected for the second quarter with higher hopes for the second half of 2022

It comes as a panel of top economists polled by Reuters have suggested that the country’s second-quarter growth will be 3.1%, an improvement on a growth rate of 2.2% for the opening quarter of 2022.

The message is clear, foreign tourism, which according to government figures last week, saw over 1.03 million foreign tourists arrive in Thailand in July, is powering a recovery.

Highest level of visitor numbers since early 2020 with over 1 million foreign tourists arriving a month

This stronger performance is also helping to balance the country’s current account and is critically important to the government which aims to achieve stronger annual growth by the end of this year before a General Election following anaemic growth in 2021.

Powerful foreign tourism economic engine is a hedge against other unpredictable events but needs priming

It is also being seen as a hedge against any unforeseen developments in a highly uncertain external environment and world economy.

The next move for Thailand’s tourism chiefs is to make the kingdom even more attractive to the country’s key tourism markets which, in the absence of Chinese tourists who made up 28% of the numbers seen in 2019, means western tourism markets and the country’s more traditional points of origin for tourists over past decades.

Both the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plan to present a proposal to the country’s Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) in September which would call for extending nightlife opening hours from 2 am to 4 am in tourist hotspots and even then, only in carefully targeted areas which are popular haunts for foreign tourist seeking nightlife activity.

This is designed to prime foreign tourist arrivals further and boost earnings.

Tourism agency chief says longer opening hours would mirror the different lifestyle habits of visitors 

Last week, Yuthasak Supasorn, the Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) explained the thinking behind this move which will not only make Thailand more attractive to its core market but also result in more money being left behind by visitors during their stay.

‘Extending the closing hours of entertainment venues is because people from some countries start having dinner around 9 pm or 10 pm, and around midnight onward, they would like to continue,’ he said. ‘If there is a longer spending period, then there will be more money entering the economy. This is not advocating for increased alcohol consumption,’ explained the tourism boss.

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Tourism Minister’s plans for later nightlife hours receive a tepid response from Interior colleague

The extension of opening hours for tourist hotspots has long been resisted by more conservative elements within the Thai cabinet, in particular, Minister of the Interior, General Anupong Paochinda.

Similar moves in 2019 and 2020 were rejected

This resistance has seen similar moves by the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn proving unsuccessful in 2019 and 2020.

It also comes at a particularly sensitive time with the deaths of 17 people and scores injured in a raging fire at the illegal Mountain B nightlife spot in Pattaya last week and a spree of fatal shootings and violence reported at night spots throughout the country which are now, again, allowed to open until 2 am following the pandemic emergency.

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There is also a powerful anti-alcohol lobby in Thailand including top brass with the Royal Thai Police, in particular, often emphasising the links between violent crime in the country and the consumption of alcohol substances.

In addition to this, there is a strong body of conservative opinion in the kingdom which scorns the country’s nightlife industry, especially as a result of its links with the sex industry and the image of Thailand it projects abroad even though events since 2020, have shown decisively that it plays a critically important role in supporting Thailand’s foreign tourism industry which directly contributes 11% to the country’s GDP and indirectly helps power 20% of the economy.

Very targeted 4 am extended opening hours will not lead to higher alcohol consumption among the public

Experts and key advisers at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the country’s tourist promotion agency will argue that this proposal to extend opening hours to 4 am is limited to select areas and will not lead to increased alcohol consumption among the general Thai population as the extra two hours opening period will be targeted very specifically at foreign tourist areas such as Soi Bangla in Phuket, Walking Street in Pattaya or Bangkok’s nightlife areas frequented by foreigners such as Khao San Road, Nana, Ekkamai and Thong Lor.

It is thought the new provisions will only apply to areas in Bangkok, Chiang Mai Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi, Hua Hin and islands in Surat Thani such as Ko Samui.

Even then, the final areas to be allowed later opening hours will be managed in ongoing consultation with local governors and authorities in each area.

Industry-driven proposal to be presented on August 19th to extend all tourist visas to a 45-day stay

The Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Mr Phiphat, is also pushing forward with proposals developed in conjunction with the industry in the kingdom over recent months to extend tourist visa status including visa on arrival, to a uniform 45 days.

This would mean a 50% extension for tourist visas and a 300% extension for visa on arrival tourists.

This proposal is to be decided upon at a meeting with the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) scheduled for August 19th.

The plan to extend the opening hours of entertainment and nightlife venues in foreign tourist areas will be decided in September and if approved, it is hoped the new and longer opening hours will see a brighter performance for the kingdom’s recovering foreign tourism industry from October onwards.

Cannot just take bumper high season foreign tourist arrivals and earnings for granted at this stage in what is a vital year for the economy says minister

Minster Phiphat has underlined the importance of tourism to the kingdom’s economic performance this year and is also stressing that economic planners cannot take for granted that the encouraging signs we are now seeing in tourist arrivals, will translate into a bumper high season at the end of 2022 when at least 1.5 million foreign tourists are expected each month.

Thailand is aiming for 10 million foreign tourists this year or even more.

A successful outcome could see GDP growth move from a projected level of 3.3% to 5% by the end of the year.

‘We have already asked each provincial governor to study the economic and social impacts as well as the necessity of extending operational hours,’ said Mr Phiphat as his department officials work on the proposal to be presented to the government in September.

The success being achieved this year as the kingdom flies in more visitors from western markets in addition to stronger numbers from India and the Middle East comes amid a surge in demand for international travel worldwide.

Different market from 2020 with travellers looking for the comfort of proven destinations, good prices and relaxation say industry experts and surveys

However, there is a difference after the pandemic emergency.

Travel agents in western countries are reporting that travellers are wary of new or eclectic destinations. They are looking for tried and trusted hotspots. 

This has been confirmed in research by the loyalty division of the Marriott Hotel Group, Marriott Bonvoy in an extensive study of UK travellers.

Holiday makers are also signalling less of a demand for adventure and challenging holiday pursuits.

At the same time, heightened inflation and increased flight costs across the globe mean foreign tourists are looking for competitively priced holidays.

Anutin: time to halt foreign tourism price deals, Thailand to be the Louis Vuitton of the world travel market 

In July, following a hostile reaction to a call from Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the Bhumjaithai Party cabinet colleague of the Minister of Tourism and Sports, to make Thailand a premium and high-cost destination, we launched a survey. 

Thai Examiner readers say No to Thailand as an upmarket, highly-priced and exclusive destination, 77.78% agree it is a ‘recipe for disaster’ in a poll

The results suggest that such a move for Thailand would be a costly mistake according to the poll carried out among our readers.

In the Thai Examiner survey of foreign holiday makers visiting Thailand, there was a response sample group of 540 people in the online poll in association with Survey Monkey. It revealed the following results.

A whopping 94.44% said the price was a critically important factor in deciding whether or not to visit the kingdom.

55.56% said the relatively lower cost of holidaying in Thailand was a definite factor in their decision to visit the country while a further 38.89% said it was somewhat of a factor. Only 5.56% declared that cost was not an issue.

With regards to plans to make Thailand a more exclusive, expensive and upmarket tourist destination, a decisive 77.78% agreed that this would be a ‘recipe for disaster’ while only 4.1% agreed with the proposition while 18.1% were not sure.

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Further reading:

Thai economy in an upswing with over 1 million foreign tourists in July powering higher GDP gains

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