An automatic gate clearance unit at Suvarnabhumi airport is expected to help ease long queues at immigration. APICHIT JINAKUL

The number of foreign tourists using the services of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta) has surged significantly this year as the Asian market grows.

The association said that as of Dec 10, 5.49 million foreigners used its members’ services — a 6.8% increase over the same period last year.

Tourists from China topped the list for the second year running at more than 3.2 million during the period, 4.15% year-on-year growth, followed by Vietnam with 217,000 tourists, a 25.7% increase, and South Korea with 167,000 visitors, up 57.4%.

Atta president Vichit Prakobkosol said foreigners travelling with its members mostly come from non-English-speaking countries like China, Vietnam and South Korea, who often needed interpreters.

The association also saw gains in other markets, including the Middle East and Scandinavia, thanks to more political stability in Thailand and a global economic rebound, he said.

“Atta customers are expected to reach 6 million this year and may climb to nearly 7 million in 2018,” said Mr Vichit.

As of Dec 21, 34 million foreign arrivals entered Thailand. The Tourism Authority of Thailand projects total arrivals will reach 35 million next year.

Mr Vichit said although the number of people coming to Thailand with tour companies is on the rise, some obstacles have thrown a spanner in their travel plans, including congestion at immigration because of insufficient staff.

“Some large groups with more than 100 people have to wait at immigration for several hours. This is one problem that needs to be solved,” he said.

Atta said more Chinese tourists, both free individual travellers and groups, are entering Thailand via other entry points than Bangkok, such as Phuket, Phi Phi Island, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Cha-am and Hua Hin.

Atta, which has more than 1,200 tour members, also urged major airports including Suvarnabhumi, Phuket, Krabi and U-tapao to prepare for the influx of Chinese tourists during the year-end period and other peak seasons like Chinese New Year, which falls in the first quarter, and Golden Week, which takes place in the last.

Mr Vichit said many tour operators, hotels and related businesses have made upgrades to serve the growing Chinese market, although greater improvements are needed at the country’s airports.

To help tackle the congestion issue at immigration, the government in August equipped automatic immigration clearance machines at Suvarnabhumi airport.

The government has vowed to expand the number of automated gate systems to serve the rising influx of visitors.

News Reporter

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