Western tourists and expats in Thailand to be replaced by Indians

Published:  28 Oct at 6 PM
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Western visitors and expats are now shunning Thailand in favour of other nearby destinations.

The previous effect of Western tourism in Thailand wasn’t just to bring short-term revenue into the country as many visitors decided to make the popular Southeast Asian destination their permanent home, either by retiring, starting a business, finding a job or even marrying a Thai girl and starting a family. Nowadays, fewer and fewer Westerners are travelling that road, due to a perception they’re no longer welcome, difficulties with longer-term visas and the ever-stronger baht’s effect on already-rising living costs.

According to local media reports, Indian and Southeast Asian tourists are now the target for marketing the charms of the former favourite destination for tourists and expatriates alike. Over the past few years, booming Chinese tourism provided much-needed revenue to both the government and local businesses, but inflation and the multiple fatalities of a tragic boat accident slowed the rush. At that time, Western visitors will still seen as welcome by the authorities, as were Western retirees with their hefty pensions and preference for Thai ladies.

Nowadays, it’s a totally different story, as expat retirees decide they’ve had enough of ever-changing visa regulations and head off to other lands where they’re treated at least fairly, with Western tourist now finding new Southeast Asian destinations in which to indulge their fantasies. Of course, throughout the changing tourism scene, the authority kept up its fantasy releases of figures showing even more arrivals.

By 2019, reality was beginning to dawn amongst expats who’d lived in the country long enough to understand how things work, with every expat forum alive with comments on declining visitor numbers. At the same time, foreign business owners as well as Thais aiming at the hospitality market were quietly downsizing operations or even closing down permanently. Falling interest in condo and house sales as well as rentals demonstrated a lack of new arrivals, and hotels which had already cut their prices were half-empty.

Coming up to 2019’s usually busy winter season, the Thai tourism authority is still trumpeting record arrivals whilst the hotels, restaurants and service providers are cutting back even more and the streets of former favourite destinations are almost empty of Western visitors including Russians. Once seen as the solution to the industry’s woes, arrivals from Europe now account for only 16 per cent of the total tourist numbers, with even the tourist minister saying he’d like to attract Westerners back.

The official line is that Indians and other Southeast Asians will easily take up the slack as numbers of Western and Chinese visitors continue to decline, but sector representatives are pouring scorn on the suggestion and hospitality sector businesses are still putting up the shutters. In the expat sector, the numbers of those deciding to transfer their lives and finances to more welcoming shores are slowly increasing.
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