Record tourist arrivals has IATA urging airport expansion

With more than 12 million tourists having visited the Kingdom during the first four months of this year, Thailand is on pace to set a new record for tourist arrivals in 2017, and the burgeoning numbers prompted the International Air Transport Association (IATA) last week to urge the government to rapidly expand several of the Kingdom’s major airports in order to accommodate the growing traffic.

“Asia-Pacific aviation, especially Thailand’s, is growing very fast, so the IATA wants Thailand to increase its airports’ carrying capacity,” said Minister of Transport Arkhom Termpittayapaisith. He met directly with IATA officials during the four-day 30th IATA Group Handling Conference in Bangkok last week.

As part of Thailand’s national infrastructure upgrade, several major airports are undergoing expansion or have plans to expand. These include Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok and U-Tapao airport on the Eastern Seaboard. Suvarnabhumi, which opened in 2006 with a capacity of handling 45 million passengers a year, is expanding to handle 60 million passengers because it has already exceeded capacity.

But the IATA wants to see Thailand work faster to expand these and other airports, Arkhom said. He called the pace of the expansion “very slow.” He said that information provided by the IATA makes it clear that officials need to take swift action.

The IATA has said that steady growth in tourism and aviation will make Thailand one of the top 10 tourist destinations and aviation markets in the world within 20 years. “It may take even less than 20 years,” Arkhom said in emphasizing that more speed is needed in the expansions and upgrades.

Along with improving physical facilities, steps need to be taken to improve immigration and customs operations, he added. This would include purchasing and adopting new technologies.

The steady growth in tourism to Thailand was evident in statistics released last week by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, which showed that 12.02 million people from overseas visited the Kingdom during the first four months of 2017.

That is a nearly 3 percent increase over the same period last year and puts Thailand on pace to set a new record this year for tourism arrivals. Visitors from East Asia, Europe and South Asia led the field in terms of tourist numbers.

During the same period, the tourism industry raked in over $23 billion in revenues, a 4.7 percent increase over the same period in 2016.