Thailand's outbound tourism is expected to grow at a slower pace to 10 million travellers this year, about 1 million lower than earlier projected, due to economic hardship and prolonged protests in Hong Kong, a favoured destination of Thais.
The anti-government protests in Hong Kong, sometimes turning violent, have brought the city to a standstill since June, with the shutdown of operations at Hong Kong airport Aug 12-13having a negative impact on local tourism.
Charoen Wangananont, vice-president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (TTAA), estimates that travel packages to Hong Kong will drop by more than 30% this year.
Based on the figures of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, some 571,600 Thais visited last year. The volume remained healthy at 322,318 visitors in the first half of this year, up about 33,000 from the same period last year.
But Mr Charoen said the escalating protests likely affected travel plans for Thai tourists during July and August, and the situation is unclear for the rest of the year.
Xinhua reported on Thursday that average earnings for tourism workers during June-July plunged 74%, while the number of tours in Hong Kong fell 74% on average, according to a survey by the Hong Kong Tour Guides General Union.
Regardless of the Hong Kong situation and the economic slowdown, the overall situation of Thai outbound tourism will be stable for the rest of the year, Mr Charoen said, noting that Thais tend to travel abroad once or twice a year.
In the first half of 2019, 6.78 million Thais took overseas trips, up 10.8% year-on-year, he said.
Mr Charoen identified Vietnam as the most popular destination for Thai tourists at the moment, with the number of Thai visitors up 30% so far this year, especially in Danang, Dalat and Hanoi, thanks to affordable tour packages.
In second place is Japan, an all-time favourite of Thais. The number of outbound tourists during January-June was 683,654, up 12.7% year-on-year.
Some 1.2 million Thais are expected to visit Japan this year, followed by 1.4 million next year when more tourists head for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
According to Mr Charoen, many outbound tour operators are preparing to sell Olympics tour packages later this year.
Taiwan ranks as the third most popular destination as Thais take advantage of visa-free status. The island country saw 205,000 Thai visitors in the first half of this year, up 29%.
Among longer-haul destinations, the European market is growing more popular because of easier visa processes and cheaper tour packages, such as one to France that starts at 30,000 baht.
Georgia and Albania are two other emerging destinations among Thai travellers in Europe.
The TTAA this week is holding the 25th Thai International Travel Fair to promote domestic and outbound travel.
The event runs through Sunday at Impact Challenger Hall with more than 1,200 exhibitors. Some 400 million baht in transactions are expected.