Thailand aims to see more US and Canadian tourists in 2024, focusing on the long-haul market. Plans include cheaper flights, visa liberalisation and spreading the word about the new Songkran All Month festival, an international celebration of Thailand.

Thailand’s tourism promotion executives plan to target the long-haul market in 2024. They are particularly seeking more the US and Canadian travellers. Significantly, a key aim is to increase flight connectivity and lower airfares with chartered flights. Additionally, with a new Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office in Chicago, executives will spread the word about the new Songkran All-Month festival to American audiences. It comes as figures show that 39% of foreign tourists in 2023 were long-haul travellers. They spent an average of ฿74,000 per trip, nearly twice as much as short-haul Asian visitors.

Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Deputy Governor Siripakorn Cheawsamoot explains how Thailand aims for more long-haul travellers in 2024. The tourism promotion agency will especially target the United States and Canadian markets.

Some weeks after the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Governor Thapanee Kiatphaibool announced that the tourist promotion agency was switching its emphasis to domestic tourism, the tourist promotion body has outlined exciting new plans to develop Thailand’s long-haul tourist market, particularly in the United States.

Mr Siripakorn Cheawsamoot is the TAT deputy governor for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.

The top executive gave an end-of-year preview of plans for 2024. He revealed that the expenditure per long-haul visitor in 2020 averaged ฿74,000. This is twice as much as short-haul tourists predominantly from Asia.

At length, his agency is targeting to increase this to ฿80,000 in 2024. The plan is to encourage more long-haul visitors from markets such as Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Additionally, TAT wants them to stay longer in Thailand. 

Visa liberalisation with multiple entry visas so visitors can go to neighbouring countries while being based in Thailand. A key ask from US travellers 

The agency is working with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports on a broad initiative aimed at visa liberalisation. The thinking is that strict visa rules currently deter foreign tourists from these markets. 

In November, the Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, Mr Prommin Lertsuridejm, speaking with Bloomberg News, suggested such a course.

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The senior aide said Thailand would introduce a 90-day visa-on-arrival facility for long-haul visitors. This would be similar to the concessions recently made to Russian tourist arrivals. It is understood that the Tourism Ministry along with the Foreign Affairs Ministry are also considering a wider package.

In brief, this would grant multiple entry visas to long-haul visitors.

The plan is especially aimed at travellers from the United States. It appears many US tourists also seek to visit neighbouring countries and re-enter Thailand on the same visa. 

Strong demand among Western and European tourists for a longer visa period than the current 30-day arrival facility. Clear evidence but no firm proposal

Research by the Tourism Authority of Thailand has shown evidence of a strong demand for a longer tourist visa.

European holidaymakers to Thailand currently can avail of a visa on arrival facilities with a 30-day visa. However, some 200,000 and 300,000 of them still apply formally to Thai embassies at home for visas. This is to allow them a longer stay.

It is understood that TAT and the Ministry of Tourism are working on a new visa programme. This would allow a 60-day visa on arrival to tourists from Western markets. It is not yet clear if the 90-day proposal floated by the senior government official in November has been ruled out. 

At this time, Mr Siripakarn points out that if 200,000 long-haul tourists were to spend an extra 30 days in Thailand, it would generate 6 million room nights.

Significant economic benefits to tourism concerns

This would be a big win for the hotel and leisure industry in the kingdom.

Similarly, he points out these tourists spend significantly more than short-term tourists. Lastly, encouraging more of them to stay longer would be a significant boost to Thailand’s business sector.

This would undoubtedly be the case for small businesses such as restaurants and smaller hotels. The TAT executive dealt with another key consideration for long-haul travellers.

In short, the increased cost of flights.

He pointed out that in 2023 the percentage of tourists visiting Thailand from long-hauled markets was higher than in the pre-pandemic era.

In effect, 39% of those arrivals were long-haul travellers. TAT is only projecting to increase this to 40% in 2024. However, the tourism agency plans have the scope to exceed this target. 

Flight connectivity and higher airfares are key barriers to Thailand’s plan to see significantly higher Western tourist numbers in both 2024 and 2025

At the same time, a key barrier to achieving more visitors is increased flight costs to get to Thailand. On the whole, flights from the United States and Canada are 20% higher than before the pandemic.

Flight connectivity key to rebuilding Thailand’s suppressed tourism industry after the pandemic

The reason for the increase in flight tariffs is that flight connectivity to Thailand remains significantly below the pre-pandemic era.

In any case, the kingdom has only recovered 80% of its 2019 level of flight connections. This problem is not going to be remedied quickly. TAT projects that flight connectivity in 2024 will only rise to 90% of 2019 levels.

This is driven by a reorganisation within the airline industry which has discovered the benefits of higher load levels. Consequently, many airlines flying into Thailand are now targeting load levels as high as 90%.

Each flight must have a strong load factor of more than 90%, similar to the cool season this year,’ explained Mr Siripakorn. In response to this, TAT is trying to encourage more charter services.

Indeed, the agency saw some success in the Russian, German and UK markets in 2023 with this. All of these markets delivered more than 1 million tourists this year.

Charter flight services succeed in the UK, German and Russian markets in 2023 flying in 600,000 visitors. TAT would like to increase this to 2 to 3 million 

The TAT executive points out that from October 2023 to March 2024, there were some 600,000 seats organised through chartered flights alone. This is an effective channel for bringing more inbound tourists to the kingdom.

The goal of the tourism promotion agency is to increase this to 2 to 3 million travellers. Certainly, this will require orchestrating such services aimed at the United States and Canadian markets. 

The TAT executive pointed out that the agency is currently in the process of opening a new office in Chicago.

On the whole, it will cater to the needs of the Midwest region of America. However, the office will also be able to service Vancouver and Toronto in Canada.

Executives at the Tourism Authority of Thailand hope the office will be open for the Songkran Festival in April 2024.

New Chicago office in America to promote Songkran

It could promote the government’s plans for ‘Songkran All-Month’. This initiative is from the government’s powerful new soft power committee. It will be a rebranded celebration of Thailand’s New Year Festival. 

In any case, the theme is ‘Amazing Thailand New Year Month’. Thailand is looking at using the Thai community in the United States in a similar way that Ireland does for St Patrick’s Day.

Planners hope Songkran can become an annual festival in the United States to win hearts and minds. 

‘The new Chicago office has a strategic location in the Midwest portion of the United States, in addition to our existing Los Angeles and New York offices on the coast,’ explained Mr Siripakorn. ‘The new office can also cover two cities in Canada, Toronto and Vancouver, where the market is growing with the resumption of direct flights from Air Canada.’

Late surge in December buoys tourism hopes

The Tourism Authority of Thailand plans to aggressively promote the Songkran All Month Festival as an event which showcases Thailand’s heritage, culture and image abroad.

Significantly in the latest tourism surge, Thailand surpassed 27 million foreign visitors from January 1 to December 24, 2023.

796,808 foreign tourists arrived in that last week alone up to Christmas Eve. 

Malaysia, China, Russia, South Korea, and India comprised the top five contributing countries.

Tourism Minister Sudawan Wang-Suphakitkosol confirmed a week-on-week increase of 16.6%, attributing it to the extended Christmas holiday period.

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