The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has released its market analysis report for 2016, for the UK and Ireland markets. According to the report, 2014 saw a mixed picture from a consumer confidence and sales perspective, although the year began buoyantly enough, with 60.9 million worldwide trips by UK residents, four percent higher compared to the previous year.
The outlook for the outbound situation in 2015 remains optimistic, as more affluent consumers drive the market. ABTA’s Consumer Trends Survey 2014 showed that more consumers are planning to spend more on their holidays in 2015 than those looking to cut back. Growth is set to come from those aged 25-34 who are the most positive about 2015 with three in ten (30%) saying they will spend more on holidays and only 14% saying they will spend less. The abolition of Air Passenger Duty (APD) for children under 12 years effective since 1 May 2015, is a major benefit especially for a long-haul destination such as Thailand where it is a saving of GBP71 per child. As of March 2016, this will be extended to all children under 16 years of age in all seats.
Wider availability of new aircraft, such as Boeing’s Dreamliner and Airbus A380 is also making long haul travel more attractive and will continue to support popular routes to destinations including Cancun, Dubai and Thailand, with Thai Airways having launched their first A380 service from London Heathrow on 1st July 2015. Currently, 32 scheduled airlines fly to Thailand from the UK via their respective hubs. Middle East carriers such as Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have become market drivers for Thailand, flying in from various UK airports as also directly from their hubs.
According to ABTA research, 6% of people are planning a sporting holiday in 2015, 5% an adventure or challenge break, while 4% of people are planning a trip abroad to see a major sporting event. (Thailand’s greatest competitor is the quality and accessibility of renowned golf courses in Europe, namely Spain & Portugal.)
Wellness and spa breaks are also a trend for 2015 and The Global Wellness Institute recently reported that the sector is worth $494 billion globally, a growth of 13% in one year. Destinations popular in this segment are Oman, Arizona, Costa Rica, Thailand and Indonesia. Cruise holidays look strong for 2015, with 10% of people planning trips, more popular with the older end of the market (18% of over 65’s and 13% of people aged 55-64 are planning to cruise.)
A number of holiday decisions were affected by social, economic or political unrest. Issues in the UK had an impact on holidaymakers; for instance, parents are now fined £60 per child if they take them out of school term time for a holiday. The Scottish referendum may also have influenced holiday plans for the Scots, owing to uncertainty in the country’s political future. Thailand also came into the spotlight, due both to protests taking place in Bangkok as well as to the high profile murder of two tourists on Koh Tao, an island popular with backpackers.
While Thailand remains perceived as a country that offers world-class hospitality services, the image has been dented by safety concerns which arose from the murder of the couple on Koh Tao. Although the clamp down on taxis at Bangkok and Phuket international airports has been well received, many tourists still find the quality – and quantity – of English speaking staff a disadvantage and non-Thai staff such as the Burmese and Indian are said to be lacking the ‘Thai smile.’ UK holidaymakers say they consider responsible tourism when booking their holiday; a third consider animal welfare to be uppermost and therefore, elephant riding and the multitude of street dogs are of real concern.
In terms of traffic from the UK to Thailand, the first five months of 2014 saw the market performing well, with the largest growth spurt being in April. Following the military taking control of the government in May there was a small decline in arrivals for the following six months. This decline was reversed in December with a 5% increase. The first three months of 2015 have seen a growth of 2.18% growth with January -0.41%, February 0.6% and March 6.58%. The Irish market was slightly stronger during the traditional summer months of June-August. Niche segments such as golf, Muay Thai boxing, Thai cooking, homestays and Thai festivals are becoming increasingly popular, especially with honeymooners and student/youth travellers; these two market segments have the largest potential for growth over the next twelve months.
In terms of competition to Thailand, Malaysia remains a key contender vying for the UK market; Australia is a consistent competitor; whilst Indonesia is an emerging competitor.
Tourist behaviour has also demonstrated some key changes. The World Travel Market 2014 Industry Report reveals almost one in 10 (9%) of UK holidaymakers have booked a holiday through a peer-to-peer site. Social media channels such as review portals, blogs, forums and even smartphones have become very popular for planning trips; networking channels such as Facebook are important ‘word of mouth’ marketing tools and picture sharing sites such as Instagram and Pinterest are channels users to seek inspiration.
Research also shows that many British holidaymakers are planning to explore new destinations in 2015, for example, if they have previously been to Bangkok or Koh Samui, they would now venture further afield to Chiang Mai, Phuket and so on. Travellers are also looking for authentic holiday experiences – ‘living like a local,’ as it were. Surprisingly, city breaks overtook beach holidays as the most popular type of holiday in 2014 in the age group 25-44 and are expected to hold the top spot into 2015 with 43% planning a city break and 42% planning a beach holiday; this is probably due to an increase in low cost flights. The most popular city break destinations include Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Barcelona and Dublin.
In terms of trends, Africa is tipped to become the surfing capital of the world; cycling poses a threat to golf tourism in the Americas; the Middle East is re-positioning itself with ‘design tourism’ and eastern Europe gets ready to benefit from holidaymakers wanting new destinations that are both accessible as well as affordable. The Caribbean remains popular for safaris and Mauritius for skiing. An ABTA research showed that nearly seven in ten (68%) consumers took at least one UK holiday in 2014 and the trend is expected to continue into 2015.