Thai tourists took advantage of a weaker yen and relaxed visa restrictions to flock to Japan over the three-day Songkran holiday ending Wednesday, but a temporary freeze on Thai flight increases to the country was likely to impact numbers.
Japan’s popularity among Thais as a holiday destination has skyrocketed since the government waived tourist visa requirements for Thailand in 2013, with traffic spiking in April during Songkran, the Thai New Year holiday.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, 657,570 Thai nationals traveled to Japan in 2014, up 45 percent from the previous year.
But a ban issued by the Civil Aviation Bureau last month that prevented Thai-registered airlines from increasing flights to Japan has dampened expectations the rate of growth will continue at such a sharp pace.
The flight-hike freeze — issued after Thailand failed an safety audit by a U.N. aviation agency — meant many Thai travelers had their holidays canceled at short notice.
But Japan’s aviation agency later suspended the ban during April and May to help ease the impact, on condition it could carry out stricter inspections of planes and flight schedules.
Thousands of tourists managed to make the trip to Japan over Songkran, with Sensoji Temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district proving to be a popular destination on Tuesday morning despite steady rain.
“I’m here on holiday for seven days,” said one 31-year-old Thai female office worker. “I only have long weekends at Songkran and New Year, so I came to Japan. Nowadays Japan is No. 1 because there are no visas any more, so Thai people choose to come here.
“Some brands are cheaper in Japan than in Thailand, like makeup. Thai people like Japanese culture and want to see Mount Fuji and Japanese temples like Meiji Shrine. Now, tickets are low-cost so more people can buy them and come to Japan.”
Chinese visitors to Japan made headlines with their voracious spending over the Lunar New Year holiday in February, snapping up items from rice cookers to heated toilet seats in a spree reportedly around $1 billion.
Retailers are unlikely to take in as much from Thai shoppers this week, but the economic benefits are still likely to be felt as visitors take advantage of the weakened yen.
“People come here for sight-seeing and shopping, because there are a lot of places to shop and the packaging is very attractive to shoppers,” said one Thai 35-year-old nonprofit organization worker showing a group around Asakusa. “This group went to the fish market and also to buy electronics.”
The visitors at Sensoji Temple appeared to cover a wide range of ages, with families and senior citizens snapping photos with selfie sticks alongside backpackers and solo travelers.
“We’re a couple and we have come to Japan for a honeymoon trip, but there are many families because of the national holidays,” said newly married 32-year-old sales engineer Pinyo, after taking a picture of his wife Natiada beside a sprig of cherry blossoms.
“We’re here for eight days. I think Japan is more popular now because maybe Thai people have always liked Japan but right now the cost is going down. Now many people from Thailand can come to Japan. I think the visa is also one of the most important reasons.
“We plan to go around Tokyo and then go to Kyoto and Osaka. I like Asakusa because it shows Japanese culture.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.