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The Water's Great

If you believe the “experts”, Thailand’s well-established tourism industry is in for a pretty lean year in 2009. Political instability, the temporary closure of Thailand’s airports, a global credit crunch, a weak British pound and stricter visa rules have all been quoted as reasons for the pessimistic forecast. However, Thailand’s bountiful attractions may well see her ride through this latest maelstrom relatively unscathed.

Kongkrit Hiranyakit, head of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), was recently quoted as saying that hotels across Thailand were running at an average occupancy rate of 20% with some as low as 10%. He predicted a drop in tourist numbers of around 15% saying that up to 3 million tourists will be “lost” during this high season, which runs until the end of March. Other government sources have painted a blacker picture with some even claiming that Thailand in 2009 could see only half of the 14 million visitors of recent years. As many as 1 million tourism-related jobs may be lost and the fallout could be catastrophic. While tourism accounts for only around 6% of Thailand’s GDP, it is Thailand’s chief source of foreign currency and the indirect spending is vital to the economy.

To counter the threat of lost revenue, incentive packages have been put together, which include an alliance of boutique hotels agreeing to charge a flat rate of 2,000 baht, and THAI Airways offering various promotions and discounts on both international and domestic flights. All of this means that the tourists who do come to Thailand can take advantage of the situation and pick up some bargain deals.

While the repercussions from the current and recent turmoil can not be underestimated, Thailand has defied the odds more than once in recent times and has not only survived but also grown stronger when various threats reared their ugly heads. AIDS, SARS, bird flu, coups and a tsunami have all failed to keep tourists away with any meaningful impact. Thailand simply has too much to offer.

The current Naked Farang poll on why foreign visitors choose Thailand reveals that almost half come for the legendary beaches and islands and many of these are return visitors who aren’t put off by the doom mongering of old men in new suits. Our poll showed that friendly people and inexpensive prices were also significant reasons for tourists choosing Thailand. As neither of these is likely to change in the near future, it could be a case of letting the good times continue to roll.

However, according to our poll, the second most popular attraction with a score of over 20% is sex. Love it or hate it, Thailand’s reputation as the sex capital of Asia keeps millions of visitors coming again and again (fnarr, fnarr) and this kind of tourist is even more loyal than the beach bums. A fair percentage actually ends up settling here. The Bangkok Post reported back in April 2008 that Thai-Farang marriages were responsible for 8.6 billion baht being brought into the Thai economy and had generated 750,000 jobs.

These are the figures, but am I right to maintain my optimism? I recently spent a short New Year break in Pattaya and failed to see any sign that tourists were staying away. A couple of hotels where I asked were full and the bars, if not the beach, were as crowded as ever, supporting either my claim about the loyalty of the sex tourist being stronger than that of the beach lover or the fact that tourists don’t come to Pattaya for the beach.

So is Thailand’s future as black as some would have us believe? Personally, I think not, but then I have always been a blind optimist. Thirty-five years of supporting Leeds United and England has taught me that. I can see there being a dip in Thailand’s tourism industry in the short term, but I expect to see it come back stronger than ever. In the meantime, there are some bargain deals to be had here for the intrepid beach bums of the world. If you are considering coming to Thailand but are having some uncertainties, come on in: the water’s great.

Paul Snowdon – January 4, 2009

Naked Farang Poll: Why foreign tourists choose Thailand

Thailand hotel and resort reservations and discounts

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