BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand welcomed 3.13 million tourists in August, a record for the low season month, and there’s no sign that the strong baht is hurting an industry that’s been a rare bright spot for the economy.
Tourism accounts for 12 percent of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, whose growth has picked up after years of sluggishness but still lags regional peers.
The August arrivals were 8.66 percent above a year earlier and marked the first time visitors during that month topped three million.
The visitors in August generated 163 billion baht ($4.93 billion) in revenue, up 11.7 percent from a year earlier, Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent secretary of the tourism and sports ministry, told a news conference on Tuesday.
“The August number is considered very high as it’s the low season,” he said.
During August, the number of visitors from East Asia increased 10 percent from a year earlier to 2.26 million, with nearly one million from China, up 10.3 percent.
Numbers from the Middle East rose 19.4 percent to 103,784 in August while those from Europe were flat, at 437,739.
For January-August, there were 23.55 million arrivals, up 5.36 percent from a year earlier. Revenue in the first eighth months rose 7.5 percent to about 1.2 trillion baht.
The government has forecast about 35 million tourist arrivals this year, up from 2016’s record 32.6 million
The baht’s strength has not yet affected tourism, Pongpanu said. The currency has risen by about 8.2 percent against the dollar this year.
“The baht is not yet an obstacle to tourism, unless it gets stronger,” he said, adding that he hopes the central bank will keep the currency from appreciating further.
A central bank official told the news conference that the baht’s strength had not impacted tourism as other currencies were also appreciating, and that the central bank was closely monitoring the market.
A representative from the Association of Thai Travel Agents urged the central bank to cut its policy interest rate by 25 basis points to help hold down the baht and lower costs for the tourist industry amid increasing competition.
The Bank of Thailand has left the rate unchanged at 1.50 percent, near record lows, since April 2015. It next reviews monetary policy on Sept. 27, and most economists expect no change.
($1 = 33.07 baht)
Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Richard Borsuk