A380 service seen as confidence-builder


Tourist arrivals from the Middle East should get a noticeable lift from the start of Airbus A380 megajet service to Suvarnabhumi Airport by Emirates airline on June 1.

“This launch reflects how much the airline expects visitors to increase to Thailand,” said Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa, who met Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Maktoum, the chairman of Emirates Group, during the Arabian Travel Mart in Dubai last week.

Sheikh Ahmed confirmed the airline would operate the world’s largest commercial passenger jetliner through Bangkok as scheduled.

Normally, large aircraft are used only for long-haul flights. The Bangkok-Dubai flight is considered short-haul at six hours.

Mr Chumpol said that other Thai international airports, notably Chiang Mai and Phuket, were also ready to extend services to Emirates.

Emirates’ A380 can carry 489 passengers and features luxurious facilities such as onboard shower spas, lounges, flat beds, massage-equipped private suites in first class and a new generation of intelligent seating and flat beds in business class.

Juthaporn Rerngronasa, a deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said the daily flight from Dubai was a positive sign for Thai tourism. Emirates has been operating in Thailand for more than 18 years. It currently operates 21 flights per week to Dubai.

Mrs Juthaporn said Emirates recently launched a holiday programme in Thailand. The package includes air tickets and accommodation at the Rose Garden, JW Marriott Hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Centara Grand, Amari Boulevard Hotel and other leading hotels in Phuket, Phi Phi, Phangnga, Samui, Chiang Mai and Hua Hin.

Seni Puwasetthawon, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said visitors from the Middle East had great potential because of their high levels of spending, they travel in large groups, and they like Thailand’s medical services.

The TAT expects Middle East visitors to grow by 6.5% to 500,000 this year from 470,000 in 2008. Mr Seni expected visitors from the Middle East to Koh Samui will double to 10,000 this year.

The association expects one million foreign visitors to Samui this year, down from 1.1 million in 2008, with revenue down by 30-40% from 20 billion baht.

Hotel occupancy rates on Koh Samui are expected to average 40-50% this year, a drop from 70-80% in previous years, mainly because of visitor concern about Thailand’s political tensions and the world economic recession.