Bangkok jumps into first place as the world’s most visited city




December 26, 2016 | The Nations

It took three years, but Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is once again the world’s most visited city, according to MasterCard’s 2016 Global Destination Cities Index annual report.

Bangkok’s number one ranking does not come as a surprise, as it has been in the top three most visited cities since MasterCard started this report. However, this rise came from a thirteen percent jump in traveler arrivals between 2015 and 2016. The only other top ten city to post a greater jump in arrival percentages was ninth ranked Tokyo.

Tourism has remained a strong point for this vibrant Southeast Asian country and appears to be virtually unfazed by the 2014 military coup. This year, Thailand has achieved 2.4 trillion baht of income from tourism, nearly 5% above the targeted of 2.3 trillion baht.

This increase in arrivals has been heavily influenced by the Government’s support of the tourist industry through tourism promotion campaigns on various destinations around the Kingdom and changes towards tourist visas – free or reduced visa fees, along with extending the long stay visa from one year to ten years.

To accommodate the steadily growing number of visitors, Airports of Thailand Plc, plans to spend 194 billion baht over the next 15 years to expand its six airports to serve 150 million passengers, against the current 71.5 million. There are also plans underway to connect
Don Muang Airport to Bangkok’s mass transit lines, linking it to Suvarnabhumi Airport.

To help Thailand’s tourist industry, the government has recently begun aggressively tackling the rise in illegally registered tour companies that specialize in ‘zero-dollar tours’, however, this has had a minimal effect on the overall visitor arrival numbers.

Even with the Thai Baht strengthening against many of the major world currencies, visitors still find outstanding value in Bangkok.

Of the top five cities visited, Bangkok has the accommodation costs, allowing visitors to spend their money in other sectors.

While Bangkok is notorious for its gridlocked traffic, especially during rush-hour and after sudden rain storms, its taxi fares remain very good value for such a major city, costing about ten percent of remains one of top ranked Zurich. Furthermore, taxis can be found anywhere, and with virtually no wait. If traffic is an issue, then the BTS and MRT offer convenient transport to many popular attractions in the downtown area.

Visitors to Bangkok can enjoy Thailand’s exotic and often spicy cuisine at a fraction of the price found in their home countries. Thai food vendors are found on every street; a dish of grilled chicken, sticky rice and spicy papaya salad may cost three Euros. To help find a street food vendor, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Ministry of Foreign Affairs have recently launched an app, “Street food Bangkok”, to help visitors find famous food vendors around the capital.

Bangkok is the top ranked global city destination, but it is often only a starting point for the 33 million visitors expected to arrive in Thailand this year. The Kingdom offers world class beaches full of sunbathers, or secluded little beaches, all overlooking the clear turquoise blue water of the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand. The mountainous north of Thailand offers a completely different experience from the south’s beaches. Travelers travel to Chiang Mai, where they can take day trips to see hill tribe people, go trekking in the mountains, or visit its numerous temples.

With so many visitors taking advantage of the government’s strong support tourism, its many attractions and central location, Thailand is hopeful that it can retain its crown as MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index in 2017.

By David Smith A part – time lecturer at  Devawongse Varopakarn Institute of Foreign Affairs.