Thai tourists going to Scandinavia has dropped 20 percent this year. But the decline is mostly due to the increasing prices on airplane tickets and the cost of living during the visit. The bottle neck in getting visa for their clients is just an added reason why most tour agents turn to sell other destinations.
Ms. Jirayuts Panmanee, Chaba Tour Co.,Ltd., has already for some time avoid the Danish and Norwegian embassies. Instead she applies for visa on behalf of her clients at the Finnish embassy.
“A good way to get a visa for Scandinavia is to apply at the Finnish Embassy where the administration is faster and less rigid especially in comparison to Norway and Denmark,” she says.
“When you have a Finish visa, you can go to Norway, Denmark and Sweden anyway.”
Apart from choosing the best embassy, Chaba Tours also screens all their clients’ documents carefully before they submit them to the visa section.
“In a few cases, when the bank statement of the customer has not been sufficient, we have also helped by transferring our money to their account to make sure the customer passes the visa requirements,” Ms. Jirayuts adds.
Ms. Jirayuts has heard that the Scandinavian immigration authorities claim that their strict rules are necessary to ensure the Thai tourists don’t overstay but go back to Thailand after their visit. This is a problem she has never had.
“On our tours we have never had a single case of any customer overstaying their tourist visas,” shestates firmly.
Thai tourists are also turned off by the sharply increasing costs of visiting a Scandinavian country. Destinations closer to home such as other Asian countries like Japan and Korea are nice alternatives. Both Japan and Korea can offer refreshingly cool summers and snow vacations in winter.
“Scandinavia is not competitive enough in its marketing, explains a sales representative for Citrin Tour Co., Ltd.
“Thai people don’t know the selling points for each of the four countries. If the Scandinavian countries want to regain their former market share, they will have to invest in much more aggressive marketing campaigns,” she adds.
“Our reservations to Scandinavia have plummeted since April. If we’re lucky, it will start picking up in October for the Christmas season, but frankly I don’t think so. A year ago, to spend 12 days in Norway usually cost on average between 70,000-80,000 Baht, but right now the same holiday will cost around 130,000 Baht or more per person. That’s enough to make most clients change their minds,” she added.
Mr Mongkol Kuprasert, Managing Director of Tour Lines Co., Ltd., which has been in business for more than ten years, agrees that Scandinavia is not doing enough to attract Thai tourists.
“The most active country in Scandinavia in promotion is Finland. Then comes Sweden. The least active is Norway and Denmark. But they all need to invest more here if they care to alleviate the current situation,” he says
“Even our wealthy customers who have maintained our services for years have cut down their trips to Scandinavia. Instead of visiting Scandinavia twice each year, now perhaps they’re only going once.”
How about “down under?”
Australia is pleased with the problems Scandinavian tourism is facing.
“Scandinavia’s loss is Australia’s gain,” Country Manager of Australian Tourist Commission Mr Thongchai Wibulsaksakul says.
“We see an opportunity in the rising costs and the much talked about Scandinavian visa problem to increase the interest of Thais in visiting Australia instead.”
“We are fortunate that for the last six months we have seen an increase in Thai tourists going to Australia. We’re closer than Scandinavia, tickets cost less and the cost of living isn’t as high,” he says.
“Australia already is very popular among Thai tourists. The effect of the oil price increase and cost of living is global but we continue to run our campaigns to maintain awareness with our target group.”
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand official figures, the number of Thai tourist arriving in Scandinavian countries last year stood at Denmark 15,672; Finland 8,224; Sweden 19,005 and Norway 2,483. Overall sentiment among agents is that they expect the downturn to continue.