Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thailand in a tourist turmoil?

Thailand in a tourist turmoil?

Having lived now for almost 8 years in Thailand, I can’t help but notice that it never has seem so quiet as it is right now in Thailand and consequently on Koh Samui. I’ve been pondering if I should write about this, since ideally I’d like to talk about positive and good news, things or events. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a real life reality and should be talked about as well. It’s not all gold that glitters, isn’t it? (as we say in Holland).

People who have businesses in Koh Samui, Phuket or Pattaya, just to name a few of the bigger tourist orientations within Thailand, all seem to complain about the lack of tourists and business they’re generating compared to earlier years.

There are a few reasons for this, first of all, the ‘low’ season is full on right now, on the Western coast, the Andaman side, they have the monsoon season and right now, due to this low season, a lot of hotels have great deals on, where you can find good hotels for just a third of the normal price. Last year I took advantage of this and I went with my family to Phuket and we stayed at the Kata Central Hotel. It’s a bit of a gamble with the weather but well worth it in my opinion. We had an enjoyable time in a nice hotel with a great swimming pool with a water slide. My 4 year old daughter still keeps asking me if we can go back to Phuket, since she enjoyed the pool so much.
On the Eastern coast, the Gulf of Thailand where I live, we have a bit of a rainy season, as each year, although this year it seems a bit harsher than average.

Secondly, and a very big reason I think; the Thai baht is not ‘cheap’ anymore. Compared to last year, when the US Dollar had 40 Baht, that same US Dollar now only has 32 baht. That’s a 20% difference in spending ability. That’s a lot everywhere. The Euro and other currencies aren’t hit that bad compared to the Baht, but they still suffered compared to a year ago.

A third reason unfortunately seems to be the current Thai government. I don’t want to slag them off, but it seems that they aren’t instilling a positive signal to the outside world.
The unrest in Thailand’s South is not getting any better, despite promises of the current military ruled Government. News does seep through to the outside world and the situation is not very good, to say the least.
In this context, I wonder how much impact the explosion of the New Year’s bombs in Bangkok had on tourist travel. It seems that Asian tourist numbers have dropped, according to statistics; I’m not too sure about Western numbers. Unfortunately the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s numbers (the TAT) aren’t that good, since they tend to give all numbers a positive spin.
In general, foreign investment in Thailand is on the decline, since the current government has installed a few new laws that make it very hard or rather uninteresting to invest in Thailand. In contrast to this, other countries in the region, like Malaysia and Vietnam are opening up their borders and are relaxing their laws on land owner ship (in Thailand, a foreigner can’t own land) and make it a lot easier for foreigners to obtain visa’s and work permits, compared to Thailand.

A couple of Western countries, like Australia and England, had on and off since the last year a negative travel advise to Thailand. That obviously doesn’t help tourism in Thailand.

In general, people who’ve been to Thailand know that it’s not more or less dangerous than previous years but people who may be thinking of visiting Thailand for the first time, may be put off by such an advice, since they don’t know what to expect.

It’s unfortunate, this apparent decline in tourists, since Thailand still has, just like before, a lot to offer. World class diving in the Similan islands, one of the top dive destinations, world wide, beautiful beaches, a very popular dive destination like Koh Tao, where there are great numbers of dive sites within a short distance of the island.
Phuket and Kao Lak, who both seem to be able to put themselves back on the map again after the terrible Tsunami 2 years ago.
The north of Thailand with Chiang Mai and it’s attractions (Doi Thep, the flower event they had earlier this year), Koh Samui, a popular destination and beautiful island, see my Samui weather blog http://samui-weather.blogspot.com/ for some stories about Samui and islands like Koh Chang, Koh Samed, cities like Pattaya, Hua Hin and many more.

It’s a topic that I talk about hat isn’t necessarily dive related although it touches the dive industry in Thailand (and many other tourist related businesses) since without tourists, we can’t survive.

For Koh Samui, the ‘high’ season is arriving, with the European summer holidays starting right now. August is normally one of our top months and the diving in the Gulf is near to perfect than with visibility of up to 30 – 40 meters and it’s also a good month for Whale shark spotting than.

So despite a lot of complaining and moaning in the tourist industry in Thailand, I hope that things will turn out for the better. Especially in Koh Samui, a lot of smaller businesses are looking forward to the high season since they’ve had a bit of a draught during the last couple of months.

I’m looking forward hearing your comments and views on this. Although I’m not citing any official statistics, this is merely a reflection of thoughts and discussions I had with lots of people who encounter some of the problems I mention and it’s something that’s alive right now and being talked in Thailand, by the people that live here and work in the tourist industry.

Despite the non diving article, I wish you all to stay wet and blow some more bubbles.

Cheers,
Camille

4 comments:

Dave said...

Great article on a very interesting topic. Shame that Thailand is suffering a drought in tourists - has this been a long term thing or is it just over the past couple of years?

Things like the global economy come into it too. Taxes (especially fuel taxes on flights) are at their highest, and people don't have too much disposable income to spend.

When is high season officially in Thailand?

Camille Lemmens said...

Hi Dave,

It seems to be a rather new development. Previous years, especially the last two, have been very good for Samui. It seems that Phuket and Kao Lak are now slowly recovering from the Tsunami.

Global economy definately comes into it, a very good point. Some of the European economies' golden years seem to be over, like in Germany and people look into cheaper destinations or destinations not so far away from home (and thus, most likely cheaper again!).

Defintaly spot on about the disposable income. People that come to Thailand, or Samui for that matter, seem to be more and more on a budget.

High season is difficult to define, since both coasts have diffrenet seasons, but as a rule of thumb, the Andaman Sea has high season between October and March and the Gulf between April and November.
Both areas with exceptions in mentioned periods.

Dave said...

Well the UK's economy has been in a downturn for most of the middle classes, but I won't get into a debate about politics as we could be here for some time. You see, I do have some sophistication and knowledge other than diving, driving and women!

Well, if I make it to Thailand soon I'll have plenty of disposable income. As much as I like being a backpacking traveller, you've got to help the economies in the countries you visit. It's the same with tipping, although the British and Americans are usually excellent at that.

Camille Lemmens said...

Hi Dave,

I think that most middle-classes in the Western world have suffered the last couple of years.

I hope you can make it over soon so we can discuss these aspects of the economy and evaluate the amount of your disposable income.

It's gonna be long evenings!