Bangkok tops list of tourist destinations

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2013

BANGKOK is set to receive 15.98 million visitors this year, the highest number in a study of 132 cities conducted annually by MasterCard Worldwide. This is the first time since 2010 that an Asian city has topped its list, which includes London, Paris and Dubai.

The Thai capital, which occupied the No.2 spot last year in the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, edged past London with a narrow lead of 25,000 visitors this year.

Singapore, which ranks fourth on this year's list, is expected to be the top source of visitors to the Thai capital, as it has been for the past three years. About 1.11 million people are expected to fly from Singapore to Bangkok for at least an overnight stay this year.

Other top sources of visitors to Bangkok are Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul.

Bangkok, racked by political unrest in 2010 and battered by devastating floods one year later, is well on its way to recovery with an ambitious expansion of its light rail network in the pipeline.

Bangkok, MasterCard's global economic adviser Yuwa Hedrik- Wong said yesterday, has "the ability to attract people to return", unlike many other cities.

The MasterCard study, which estimates the number of visitors arriving by air and staying overnight as well as how much they spend in the city, does not differentiate between the citizens and non-citizens who are resident in a country of origin.

So visitors considered in the study to be originating from one city could be non-citizens usually resident in that city.

The study estimates that Singapore will get 11.75 million visitors this year, a 3.8 per cent growth from last year.

Dr Hedrick-Wong noted, however, that the increase in the number of Singapore's visitors has slowed from 2009, when it enjoyed double-digit growth rates.

He attributed part of this slowdown to Singapore's integrated resorts, which attracted a bumper load of visitors when they first opened in 2010.

"It could be a one-off bump and then it moderates back to the normal kind of growth," he told The Straits Times.

Meanwhile, the more expensive cities such as New York, London and Paris continued to top MasterCard's rankings for estimated visitor spending, but they are followed closely by Bangkok, Singapore and Tokyo.

While overnight visitors were expected to spend US$18.6 billion (S$23.5 billion) in New York this year, they were also expected to plonk down US$14.3 billion in Bangkok and US$13.5 billion in Singapore.

Since expenditure is determined by the cost of living as well as duration of stay in a city, the fact that a relatively low-cost city like Bangkok - which is used by many tourists as a weekend getaway - scored so highly on this list is "impressive", noted Dr Hedrik- Wong.

It could mean that tourist expenditure is being bolstered by sheer numbers, he said.

An adviser to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr Suwanchai Ritthirak, told The Straits Times that it was trying to attract even more tourists to Bangkok by opening up more night-time attractions along its Chao Phraya river. It was also trying to encourage stores to stay open for business till late in the night, to cater to tourists put off by the city's sometimes scorching daytime temperatures.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on May 28, 2013

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