An In-Depth Look at Thailand in 2015
Travel and Tourism (T&T) plays a pivotal role in creating a robust and strong economy in Thailand. A wave of new developments in Thailand’s T&T sector — including government policy changes and strengthening marketing efforts — have Thailand on course for strong tourism growth in the coming decade. Each year, we release a series of impact reports focusing specifically on quantifying the economic impact of Travel & Tourism on 184 countries and 25 regions of the world. According to the our 2015 Thailand Economic Impact report, in measuring the relative importance of T&T’s total contribution to Thailand’s national GDP, the country ranks 18th overall out of the 184 countries researched.
In fact, T&T accounted for 14.1% of Thailand’s total employment in 2014, with 5.3 million people directly and indirectly supported by the Thai tourism industry. This figure is only growing: we estimate T&T will account for more than 20% of the total employment in Thailand by 2025.
These growing estimates are still on track despite a few setbacks as the result of political unrest during the past 18 months. In May 2014, the military junta enacted martial law during the Thai coup d’état. Many European and American tourists are not able to secure international travel insurance to destinations under martial law, and with the order in place for more than 10 months Thai tourism was severely affected. Beyond the insurance issues, tourists had to adhere to a strict, nationwide curfew. While the curfew didn’t impact the country’s iconic historical sites like the UNESCO complex of Ayutthaya, that is only one piece of the Thai tourism industry. The curfew severely limited activities in the Thai islands, where many tourism-facing businesses earn money after midnight through the region’s vibrant nightlife scene.
In April of this year, however, the government lifted martial law. Sources within the Thai government and the Thai Tourist Ministry confirm that T&T will recover by the end of 2015. M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakula, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Economic Affairs notes: “Tourism is also expected to continue growing, propelled by European and American tourists who will be visiting Thailand in response to the lifting of martial law.” Additionally, initial reports from tour operators and hotels indicated bookings were increasing in the wake of the announcement.
When examining the spending impact of Thai tourism, it’s important to look at the types of travelers visiting the country. Thailand’s total T&T spending in 2014 accounted for 19.3% of the country’s total GDP. WTTC research expects that number to increase by 3.2% in 2015. It’s quite likely that this 2015 rise is in large part due to the government’s strong push for increased East Asian tourism. Overall, our research indicates total T&T spending in 2025 will account for 25.8% of GDP.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Chinese tourism accounts for an exponentially growing portion of the country’s tourists, significantly impacting direct and indirect T&T contributions. In late 2014, the government implemented a three month visa-fee waiver scheme for China and Taiwan passport holders to stimulate tourist arrivals. Anecdotal evidence throughout 2015 suggests that the program was effective at increasing East Asian tourism to Thailand even once the visa-waiver program ended.
The research has Thailand pegged for growth over the next decade in all areas of tourism growth, including direct and indirect spending, income, exports, and employment. With these anticipated tourism gains on the horizon, the government and international sources have noted plans for strong investment in indirect projects that will bolster and support the country’s growing T&T sector. The Asian Development Bank notes that “The interim government has approved an infrastructure program that includes $95 billion in investments over 8 years in railways, roads, ports, airports, and special economic zones. … The government plans to offer contracts for mass rapid transit rail lines in Bangkok and for double-tracking rail lines across the country.”
Alongside these numerous indirect developments, the Tourism Authority of Thailand announced a new tourism campaign for 2015. The previous slogan, “Amazing Thailand,” is officially retired. Thailand’s marketing efforts are now aimed at differentiating Thailand from other Southeast Asian countries. The TAT’s new “2015 Discover Thainess” campaign ramps up the country’s focus on unique cultural activities offered only in Thailand, infusing the tourism message with emphasis on Thai traditions and beliefs. Though the countries in this region share some historical and cultural similarities, the new campaign will showcase the quintessentially Thai mai pen rai — no worries — lifestyle that is most memorable for many tourists who have traveled the country. The government anticipates the message will resonate with target regions and further boost tourism demand.
Overall, the Thai government and tourism authorities are taking a multifaceted approach to growing T&T. Evidence shows programs aimed at several key areas of the tourism funnel — from increasing demand to bolstering infrastructure.
For the full country report on Thailand, with expanded economic numbers, click here.