The number of international tourist arrivals in March fell by 9.39% year-on-year to 2.1 million due mainly to the political unrest, says the Tourism Department.

The six markets with the biggest declines were Africa (-17.8%), South Asia (-17.7%), the Middle East (-14.8%), East Asia (-14.67%) Oceania (-10.7%) and the Americas (-5.06%).

But Europe saw a 2.25% increase to 680,728 visitors on the back of an improving economy. The two main growth drivers were the Russian market, which rose by 9.86% to 211,677 visitors, and Finland, which grew by 48.3% to 25,897.

Among key markets, arrivals from Japan dropped by 26.1% to 101,046 visitors, while Malaysia was down 20.3% to 184,233, Britain 13.1%, to 79,608, China 11.1% to 331,638 and Germany 11% to 79,966.

In the first quarter, international tourist arrivals fell 5.85% year-on-year to 6.6 million, while tourism revenue declined by 4.02% to 311 billion baht.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand projects foreign tourist arrivals this year will reach 28 million, while tourism revenue will be 2 trillion baht.

The department said 50 countries still maintain travel advisories even though the state of emergency was lifted last month.

Ronnachit Mahattanapreut, the senior vice-president for finance and administration at Central Plaza Hotel Plc (Centel), said the political problems caused its hotel revenue to drop by 5% year-on-year to 2.23 billion baht in the first quarter.

However, the company is confident it can achieve revenue growth of 10% this year thanks to the good performance of its hotels in the Maldives.

Also in the first quarter, Centel reported the occupancy rates of its hotels in resort destinations ran at 80-90% on average.

However, hotel occupancy fell in Bangkok, especially near protest sites. Centara Grand and Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld had a rate of only 43% compared with 82% in the first quarter last year.

The occupancy of the Centara Grand at CentralPlaza Lardprao was 67%, down from 86%, while Central Government Complex Hotel & Convention Centre Chaeng Watthana had a rate of almost zero.

Mr Ronnachit believes the tourism situation will recover in the second half of this year if political problems end by June.

Kasikorn Research Center predicts the political problems will hurt tourism sentiment during next week’s Songkran festival.

It expects the number of international tourists visiting Thailand during Songkran will drop by 10.6% from last year to 600,000, with tourism revenue falling by 9.6% to 26.5 billion baht.

Short-haul markets such as East Asia (China, South Korea, Japan) and Malaysia will account for 55% of visitors, while long-haul markets such as Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Eastern Europe will comprise 30%.

Photo Credit: Anti-government protesters occupy an intersection in central Bangkok. Nir Elias / Reuters