BANGKOK – Tourist arrivals in Thailand have been promising – with 3.12 million international travellers turning up in the first seven months of the year.

The authorities and industry players are optimistic but the nation, which before the Covid-19 pandemic relied heavily on tourism, is not out of the woods just yet.

“Honestly, I don’t think we are even halfway to rebuilding tourism in South-east Asia. It went down to such low levels that everything compared with last year is a big increase,” said Ms Hannah Pearson, founding partner of travel consultancy firm Pear Anderson.

Several challenges threaten to dampen the “slow but steady” recovery, including high inflation rates and operational and manpower issues that will increase travel costs, say industry operators.

External factors, like the Ukraine-Russia war that has pushed up energy prices, the reimposition of travel rules in some countries seeing Covid-19 resurgences and concerns over the global monkeypox outbreak, will continue to cloud Thailand’s efforts to rebuild the crucial tourism sector.

“But at least it is steady progression, instead of the one step forward, two steps back situation last year,” added Ms Pearson, whose firm specialises in the South-east Asian market.

Since the country dropped its last slew of border entry rules on July 1 – removing the Thailand Pass registration and compulsory insurance – foreign arrivals have grown by 50 per cent, crossing the one million mark per month for the first time since the pandemic.

Thailand was one of the first places in the region to ease border restrictions, beginning with the experiment to ring-fence the island of Phuket for tourists in July last year.

And, with each move to scale back entry rules, Travel agencies like Contiki started to see the gradual return of tourists.

“Demand has consistently increased for our Thailand itineraries in line with restrictions continuing to be relaxed,” said a spokesman, adding that these offerings are its top sellers in Asia.

Currently, travellers need to show only their vaccine certificate or a negative polymerase chain reaction test to enter.

According to official figures, about 1.07 million tourists visited last month, with those from Malaysia, India and Singapore leading the pack.

This yielded 125 billion baht (S$4.83 billion) in travel receipts.