Why Indian tourists are flocking to Thailand, where they may soon outnumber Chinese visitors
Take a walk around the markets of Pratunam in downtown Bangkok on any given weekday and you’ll soon discover there’s a new type of tourist in town.
For years, Thailand’s tourism scene has been dominated by Chinese visitors, with 10.5 million in 2018 alone
But after a tour boat carrying mostly Chinese tourists sank off the southern resort island of Phuket in July last year,
killing 47, the number of visitors from Thailand’s mammoth neighbour to the north – which had been increasing every year – began to tail off.
The Thailand deputy Prime Minister claiming it was ‘their own fault, not the Thais,’ didn’t help matters much.
In their wake, the number of tourists from India has now started to increase, with a record 180,000 visiting in June alone, according to the Thai tourism ministry.
More direct flights, a visa waiver and, most importantly, increasing wealth have spurred the number of Indian arrivals, which the Tourism Authority of Thailand says were up by more than 20 per cent year on year in the first five months of 2019.
Arrivals from China, meanwhile, were 4 per cent down over the same period – although that still equates to 4.8 million tourists, whereas just 787,195 came from India.
But the rapid expansion of its middle class has prompted Thai tourism officials to raise their estimates of how many visitors will come from India, with its population of 1.3 billion.
At least 10 million are now expected to arrive in 2028, a more than five-fold increase on last year’s visits.
That sort of growth trajectory would mimic the rise of Chinese tourists, from 800,000 in 2008 to more than 10 million last year.
Preecha Champi, a Thai Hotels Association board member, said Indian tourists differed from Chinese ones in that they rarely came as part of a tour group because they can speak English.
“There were 1.6 million Indians who visited Thailand in 2018 and we expect it to be 1.8 million this year,” he said.
“The Indian market shares a lot of similarities with the Chinese. Visitors from both countries can fly here in 3 to 4 hours, they have about the same population and have experienced GDP growth, but there are 600 million Indians who are younger than 25 years old and we think this group of people will be the future of Thai tourism.”
Parv Jain, an 18-year-old student from Punjab state, said he and a group of seven friends had flown directly to Phuket before travelling to the nearby resort town of Krabi and making a final stop in Bangkok.
“We stayed in Thailand for eight days and we each spent around 15,000 baht (US$486),” he said.
Tuhin Mitra from Kolkata, meanwhile, said he had been to Pattaya and loved that he could drink alcohol on the beach, something the 27-year-old cannot go back home.
In addition to visiting Thailand’s tourism hotspots, Indians are increasingly choosing the country as the location of their weddings – with some 200 Indian couples tying the knot there each year, according to the Thai tourism authority.
“Couples and their families spend around 8 to 9 million baht (US$260,000 – US$290,000) per wedding package at Thailand’s five-star hotels in Bangkok, Hua Hin and Pattaya,” Preecha, of the Thai Hotels Association, said.
“There could be some 300 to 400 guests who fly in for three to four nights of celebrations and they consider Thailand a very cost-effective destination to host a wedding.”