The Middle East has emerged as a more focused source market for countries such as Thailand, Sri Lanka and Singapore which have all started aggressively marketing their destinations in the region in a bid to keep the arrivals number positive, said senior executives of tourism promotion boards.
Pramoth Supyen, the Director of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Dubai and Middle East, said: "Increasingly, the Middle East has emerged as an important source market". Thailand has embarked on this campaign early to offset the negative impact of the closure of Thailand's two airports in late 2008, which resulted in several hundreds of passengers being stranded. He said all tourism infrastructure is now back to normal.
Supyen told Emirates Business, "Visitors from the Middle East have been increasing year-on-year. In 2008, 450,000 tourists from the Middle East visited Thailand, as against the 426,721 tourists from the region in the previous year, an increase of 5.5 per cent.
Pasan Teparak, the Consul-General of Thailand to Dubai, said: "Thailand has emerged as a major centre for medical tourism. Last year 100,000 Emiratis went to Thailand for medical treatment." TAT will be targeting this segment this year also.
The other niche, which Thailand is targeting, is the school segment for camps and has started with a seminar for global school heads, followed by a familiarisation mission to Thailand for school camp supervisors and promotion of Thailand's school camp facilities.
For the Middle East visitors, Thailand is positioned as a Muslim-friendly country with easy access to mosques and halal food. As part of the promotions, TAT will also be participating in the travel marts and road shows in the region.
Teparak said TAT was in touch with Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing about common concern and encouraging "dual passage between Dubai and Thailand and vice versa".
The Consul-General said Thailand has decided to waiver visa charges for tourists for a three-month period as part of the promotions. "The Middle East has outperformed all other regions of the world, by becoming the fastest growing source market for Sri Lanka, said Heba Al Ghais Al Mansoori, Middle East Director of Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Bureau. She said Middle East travellers visiting Sri Lanka surged by 24 per cent in 2008. The strongest growth markets included the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iran.
"Declining costs of travel, changing lifestyle patterns, consumer-friendly travel facilities, and good child care and maid facilities for Arabs travelling with families have been key growth drivers," Al Mansoori observed.
Cultural attractions, entertainment, shopping and dining are some of the factors that draw modern day Arab travellers, she said adding Sri Lanka is also less than four hours flying time away from the Gulf. "The Singapore Tourism Board expects strong growth from the Middle East leisure travel market. A total of 113,919 visitors from the Middle East travelled to Singapore during 2008 – which is a 16 per cent increase over 2007. There was 33 per cent growth in visitors from Iran and 23 per cent growth in visitors from the UAE, said Jason Ong, Area Director for the Middle East and Africa, Singapore Tourism Board.
"We are also positive about the business events happening in Singapore as many of them are either annual events or were planned well in advance. There has been no cancellation of confirmed business events scheduled to take place in Singapore," Ong added.
To maintain year-on-year growth in visitor numbers from the Middle East and build stronger ties with the local travel industry, the Singapore Tourism Board, together with Singapore-based inbound tour operators and hoteliers, are taking part in a week-long series of trade visits to Iran and UAE.
"With Iran and the UAE showing high growth in visitor numbers from the Middle East, it is important to have our Singapore travel trade strengthen relationships with key agents in these countries," said Ong.
Representatives from The Sentosa Resort and Spa, Millennium Tours and Travel, and National Healthcare Group are among the Singaporean contingent taking part in the visits to Abu Dhabi followed by Tehran.