Roadshow aims to attract Saudi tourists after relations thaw

People walk out of the arrival hall of Suvarnabhumi airport after disembarking from a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight SV846 from Jeddah via Riyadh on February 28, 2022. It was the first direct commercial flight from Saudi Saudi Arabia in 32 years, following the recent normalization of diplomatic relations. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn is due to lead a road show in Saudi Arabia this month to explore possibilities of attracting more visitors to the Middle Eastern country.

The ministry is one of the key players moving to exploit the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

After 32 years of strained relations, Saudi Arabian Airlines has restored a direct route between Saudi Arabia and Bangkok with the launch of service to Bangkok from Jeddah via Riyadh on February 28.

Mr Phiphat said 72 people arrived on the inaugural flight, but arrivals on subsequent flights have been sparse.

The ministry has written to its Saudi counterpart through its embassy in Bangkok to say it is planning a visit to the kingdom.

Mr. Phiphat said he wanted to meet with Saudi Arabia’s tourism authorities to discuss a tourism campaign to get Saudi state officials to take their annual medical checkups in Thailand.

The minister said he believed the letter would receive a favorable response.

He would take a team of tour operators, officials from the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Ministry of Transport later this month.

He will also invite Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who oversees the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, to the tour.

Additionally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as a potentially lucrative market for Thailand.

The UAE has an expatriate population of 7-8 million with high purchasing power which could give tourism to Thailand a boost.

The ministry’s target is to attract 200,000 to 500,000 visitors from the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia this year and at least 1 million from this segment next year.

Middle Eastern tourists spend an average of nearly 90,000 baht per person on their trips here, exceeding the average spend of a European or American tourist by around 70,000 baht per person.

Regarding the country’s overall tourism goals, Mr. Phiphat said that in two years, the ministry expects the sector to rebound and achieve around 3 trillion baht – 2 trillion baht from foreign visitors and 1 trillion Thai baht – income in 2024.

He said the ministry was also looking to encourage expats already in Thailand, nearly 2 million people, to make more domestic trips.