The Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) hopes the country’s tourist industry can enhance its halal-friendliness to cater to the growing number of arrivals of visitors from the Middle East.
The ATTA has announced that it expects international tourism arrivals to Thailand through its members to decrease by almost 40 percent, to 1.5 million, in 2009 because of the global credit crunch and domestic political problems.
However, the one positive is the rise in Middle Eastern visitors, which has grown almost 6 percent to more than 44,000 visitors this year.
Surapol Sritrakul, the ATTA president, said the Muslim market is something the Thais should focus on, given that 658 million Muslims, out of a world population of 2 billion, travel frequently.
He was quoted in a Bangkok Post article as saying: “The challenges for this market are language and facilities in hotels, such as halal restaurants and prayer rooms.”
“We will educate our members to focus on Muslim tourists and teach them how to penetrate this market.”
According to the report, Thailand has only 59 restaurants with halal standards and 26 hotels with halal restaurants and prayer rooms for Muslim guests. One of the key lures for Middle East visitors is medical tourism. More than 80,000 medical tourists from the United Arab Emirates annually go to Bangkok’s Bumrungrad Hospital for check-ups and care.
These visitors generally have money, and Surapol wants hospitals in the country to facilitate Muslim visitors better.