Travel agencies are urging the region to reopen

Group says restrictions on tourism must end

People visit Sensoji Temple, a popular tourist spot, on October 12 in Tokyo. AFP

According to the Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA), the ongoing travel restrictions and entry regulations in some countries are the biggest obstacles to the expansion of the tourism sector.

Charoen Wangananont, President of TTAA, said Thai outbound tourism remains strong in the last two months of this year despite concerns about an economic recession, particularly to destinations with no travel restrictions.

For countries that allow inbound tourism but have retained some requirements, market feedback has been slower than expected. He said an example is South Korea, which still requires tourists to obtain pre-approval from the K-ETA registration system.

Hong Kong recently eased some activities for travelers visiting tour operators, but it still requires a PCR test on arrival, Mr Charoen said.

He said the situation in Japan is different. Although seat capacity on flights to the country is only 60% of pre-pandemic levels and airfares are extremely expensive, Thai tourists have continued to travel there since Japan reopened in October.

The flow of travel is expected to remain strong until next year’s Songkran festival, Mr Charoen said.

“Packages to Japan accounted for 20% of total sales this year and became the top destination despite only reopening in October,” he said.

“Tour operators started offering Songkran holiday packages in April 2023, 30-40% of which are already booked.”

More Thai travelers are booking tours in Vietnam for the final quarter of the year, largely due to the easing of travel rules, Mr Charoen said.

Vietnam also has many ports of entry for air travel and affordable prices.

Package sales in Vietnam have surpassed South Korea, which has fallen to No. 3 in the ranking, he said.

Mr Charoen said countries looking to boost tourism should consider lifting their remaining restrictions next year, as many nations have proven that seamless travel is a better way for them to capitalize on the travel boom than offering a half-hearted reopening.

He said if regional governments allowed tourists to travel freely with promotional campaigns introducing unexplored destinations, tourist flows would increase and participating countries would benefit.

Last week, TTAA and Thai tour operators took part in an introductory trip to Saga and Nagasaki, cities on the Japanese island of Kyushu.

Tour operators have been encouraged to sell more packages to these cities as they only received 60,000 tourists out of the 1.2 million Thais who visited Japan in 2019.

Mr Charoen said with the local government’s strong support, the number of Thai tourists visiting Kyushu could reach at least 100,000 next year.

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