The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge on the Mekong River connects Nakhon Phanom province with Thakhek, Khammouane in Laos. PANUPONG CHANGCHAI
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has pledged to boost cross-border tourism and raise the number of Asean tourists coming to Thailand.
The tourism industry expects arrivals from the region to reach 10 million this year.
Tanes Petsuwan, deputy governor for marketing communications at the TAT, said Thailand has opened about 30 overland border checkpoints for international visitors from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia. There are four friendship bridges with Laos and two with Myanmar, with more planned.
“The Asian highway is growing rapidly and will provide extensive road connectivity beyond neighbouring countries to both China and India,” Mr Tanes said. “Rail travel is going to be the next generation of land transport infrastructure to emerge, with high-speed links that are in the design and planning stage.”
For air connectivity, Mr Tanes said Airports of Thailand Plc operates six international airports that serve 135 scheduled and chartered airlines.
Low-cost airlines from Vietnam, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong are boosting the frequency of flights to Bangkok, as well as other popular tourism destinations such as Phuket and Chiang Mai.
Meanwhile, marine connectivity is on the rise, with Phuket, Pattaya and Koh Samui home to a number of cruise and yachting marinas. Ferry connectivity with Malaysia is growing and is expected to grow in the future with Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Mr Tanes said Asean countries are collectively Thailand’s biggest visitor source market in Asia, having supplied more than 9 million visitors in 2017.
Malaysia was the largest market with total arrivals of 3.35 million, despite a drop in volume of about 4% year-on-year from 2016.
Visitors from Laos came in second at 1.61 million (+16.2%), followed by Singaporeans with 1.02 million (+6.3%).
The tourism industry predicts that arrivals from Asean markets will reach 10 million this year, thanks to higher airline capacity and attractive promotions from operators.
In order to maintain Asean arrivals in growth, the TAT has launched a travel manual called “Experience Thailand and More”, focusing on four key experiences that enhance Asean connectivity with new destination combinations.
The routes cover Asean history by linking northern Thailand with historic trails in the north of Asean; the Nature Trail, which links the Andaman coastal cities and highlights Phuket’s distinctive Peranakan culture; and the Mekong adventure trail, which connects the Northeast of Thailand with Cambodia.
The Northeast trail showcases Buri Ram as a sports city ideal for travellers who love combining sports with adventure travel experiences. Asean gastronomy and heritage cities will be concentrated in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
TAT governor Yuthasak Supasorn said he will ask Vietjet Group of Vietnam to operate direct flights from Vietnam, probably from Ho Chi Minh City to Khon Kaen in the Northeast of Thailand, to boost travel movement between the two regions.
“I will help negotiate with aviation authorities and airports in Isan to offer incentives to the airline, such as reduced landing and parking fees,” Mr Yuthasak said.
If Vietjet is able to operate in the Northeast of Thailand, it could help propel the economy in the region, he said.
According to Mr Tanes, the TAT has also segmented targeted customers worldwide, ranging from first-timers to repeat visitors, senior citizens and sports enthusiasts.
The agency is also emphasising niche markets such as weddings, honeymoons and female visitors.
The government recently approved a series of tax deduction measures to boost the local economy in 55 secondary provinces nationwide throughout 2018.
The measures are aimed as stimulating local economies through the tourism industry by attracting international and domestic travellers to local communities in these second-tier provinces, to the tune of about 10 million visitors and at least 10 billion baht in income generated.