Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is moving into high gear to promote as tourist destinations, especially among Muslims, the deep South provinces that have been plagued by violence.
TAT is pushing for a 5-10 per cent increase in tourist numbers from 1.43 million in 2011.
They include Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces. However, people involved in the industry believe the three provinces will be a tough sell as tourists would be worried about their safety.
Ahman Mad-adam, director of the TAT's Narathiwat office responsible for Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat, said the three provinces were safe and rich in cultural and natural tourism products. It is a new market for tourism in the country. But its image among Thais is plagued by violence and fears for safety.
The number of tourists in the three provinces hit 1.4 million in 2003, dropping 4 billion baht (US$127million) into the local economy. But the number started to drop years later, caused by an upsurge in violence. In 2010, its number declined to 1.3 million, with a total spending of 3 billion baht ($95 million).
Of the total tourists, 80 per cent came from Malaysia and 20 per cent were Thais, mainly local people in the southern region. Currently, there are four border immigration gates in the three provinces.
Abdullah Wan-Mat, managing director of Yaskin Travel & Tour (Thailand), based in Narathiwat, said his travel agency has more strategies to achieve such a goal. The firm has designed its travel package via three provinces, with its major destinations like Hat Yai and Kelantan and Terengganu in Malaysia. Tourists can stay overnight or more in the three provinces.
However, they have pinned big hopes to boost tourism in the region on the Southern Border Tourism Expo, to be held from June 1-3. The second event will be different from the previous one as it will be open to the public, wooing more Thai tourists, not only Thai Muslims.
Last year, the event drew 10,000 people, mainly Muslims, with total spending of 45 million baht ($1.4 million).
However, Ahman urged the government to help promote tourism in the three provinces. Beyond a safe region, it should offer incentives such as cheaper travel packages for those who travel to the region.