The number of Indian tourists coming to Thailand has doubled over the past five years and continues to grow by an average of 15 per cent annually according to a survey conducted by Bank of Thailand researchers Nutchanart Kuprasert and Jidapha Chuayphan.
Contributing factors include an overall increase in Indians travelling overseas as evidenced by 10 million new passports being issued annually.
Thailand is a popular choice for first-time tourists as distances are short and travel is easy thanks to some 3,000 direct flights now being offered by various carriers between both main and secondary destinations including to Phuket plus the introduction of visa on arrival (VOA). But can the number of Indian tourists in Thailand expand to overtake Chinese tourists?
The study indicates that this is unlikely in the near future. Projections for the next 10 years show that some 21 million Chinese tourists will visit Thailand compared to 14 million Indian nationals. However, in terms of spending, Indian tourists are similar to Chinese and able to travel to Thailand all year round, even during the low season.
Popular destinations are listed as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. In addition, information from tour operators in Thailand reveals that Indian tourists are not as sensitive as Chinese tourists to unexpected events. Generally speaking, if the trip has been planned in advance, they will not change plans or cancel travel.
Indian tourists who enter Thailand are divided into 3 main groups:
1. Tourism for vacation accounts for 85 per cent. Most visitors are between the ages of 25 and 35, prefer to travel with friends or come here for a honeymoon because the cost is not high. They spend an average of Bt27,000 per person and favour the country as they can get a visa on arrival. Some groups use Thailand as a base for visiting other countries.
2. Marriage accounts for 5 per cent of visitors, mostly amongst the well-heeled. The data show that more than 300 Indians come to get married in Thailand every year often with wedding parties exceeding 200 guests. In India, luxury events such as weddings are a show of family status, and the budget ranges from Bt10 million to Bt120 million per event. Couples favour 15 well-known 5-star hotels and the average spending per person is Bt50,000.
3. MICE groups or group meetings account for 10 per cent, with many large companies choosing Thailand as an incentive destination. These visitors travel in large groups of around 800 people and are likely to visit Thailand on multiple occasions. The average spend per person per time is Bt 76,000. Thai business tour operators indicate that some groups request specific travel programmes in Pattaya and ask for entertainment venues and request hotels that allow outsiders to stay.
The study shows that seminar tourist groups and marriage groups spend the most and recommends that Thailand focuses on attracting these visitors while also paying attention to maintaining the millennial tourist base because India has a large young population. However, it also points to a need to modify Thailand’s image as a cheap place to stay and erase its reputation as a sex destination.
Media such as film can be useful in this regard as it directly reaches the target audience. For example, the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”, which portrayed the life of Singaporeans and included scenes of the country’s vibrant street food culture, saw hotel occupancy increased to 89 per cent.