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Top Asian city for visitors is Bangkok

By Kittipong Thavevong The Nation, Singapore

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Despite last year's violence in the city and the lingering political uncertainties, Bangkok is ranked first among Asian cities based on the estimated number of international arrivals by air and the level of visitor expenditure this year, according to the findings of a study conducted by a leading credit-card company.

Globally, the capital is the third-most-popular destination among air travellers and comes fourth in terms of visitor spending.

About 11.5 million air travellers are expected to visit Bangkok and spend US$14.4 billion (Bt436 billion) this year.

However, contrary to the popular perception that most visitors to Thailand are thrifty backpackers, it is estimated that Bangkok's expenditure per visitor is $1,252, which is ranked third globally after New York ($2,671) and London ($1,274).

The estimates are based on findings in a research programme by MasterCard Worldwide called the "Index of Global Destination Cities", covering 132 cities around the world with the potential of being "centres of commerce" for regional and global economies.

The author of the report, Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, said the findings showed that Thailand's political conflict over the past five years, which turned deadly last year, had only a temporary impact on the country's status as a preferred destination among international travellers.

Visitors appear to have kept coming to the capital despite the political unrest, he said during a meeting with a group of Asean journalists in Singapore on Monday.

Hedrick-Wong, a Canadian, is global economic adviser at MasterCard Worldwide and visiting professor of international business at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Most visitors to Bangkok travel from Asia, with those from Singapore the largest group among the 10 top origin cities at an estimated 869,000 visitors, followed by Hong Kong (822,000), and Tokyo (711,000).

London, Frankfurt and Sydney are also among the top 10 origin cities for visitors to Bangkok.

Inbound business travellers make up a large portion of air visitors to Bangkok, ranging from 29 to 37 per cent. Among the top five origin cities, 35 per cent of visitors from Singapore are business travellers, 37 per cent of those from Hong Kong, 28.9 per cent of those from Tokyo, 29.3 per cent of those from Seoul and 31.7 per cent of those from London.

Interestingly, many outbound visitors from Bangkok fly to Macau, which is well known for its huge casino business. An estimated 181,000 visitors from Thailand will fly to Macau and spend $172 million there this year, much of it on gambling, Hedrick-Wong said.

Macau is ranked ninth in the top 10 destination cities for outbound travellers from Bangkok. Most other outbound travel is for business purposes, with the top five destinations for this being Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei and Tokyo.

Hedrick-Wong said the projections made for Tokyo - which is ranked 20th for visitor arrivals and 15th for visitor spending - may lack accuracy because of the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear scare hitting northern Japan. The calculations for this report were done before the disasters struck the country, which resulted in sharp decreases in tourist arrivals.

London was the world's top destination among international visitors travelling by air last year, at an estimated 20.1 million, and Paris was second (18.1 million). London is still the world's No 1 in terms of visitor spending ($25.6 billion) but interestingly, New York is expected to see the second-highest visitor spending, with $20.3 billion, surpassing Paris' estimated $14.6 billion.

New York is the only city outside Asia and Europe on the list of the world's 20 top destination cities, which contains nine Asian cities and 10 in Europe. New York is ranked 12th.

However, when it comes to visitor spending, seven Asian cities make it into the top 20. Eight cities in Europe, three in the United States and two in Australia are also on the list.

Bangkok is the last among the 10 cities with the highest growth rates of visitor spending, which when compared with 2010 ranges between 18.6 per cent for both the Thai capital and Seoul and 30.1 per cent for the Turkish city of Istanbul, according to the report.

However, Bangkok fails to make it into the top 10 among the cities with the highest growth rates of visitor arrivals. The Spanish city of Barcelona heads the list, with a 24.3-per-cent expansion, and New York is placed 10th (11.7 per cent).

Both tourists and business travellers are covered in the MasterCard study; it does not, however, include visitors who cross borders overland.

The data were collected in 2009 and 2010 and the calculations behind the estimates were made before March this year.

-- The Nation 2011-06-02

-- Edited by Roaming reporter on Thursday 2nd of June 2011 02:14:20 PM

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