Thailand expects record tourist arrivals in 2016

BANGKOK (Reuters) - International tourist arrivals in Thailand are expected to reach a record high in 2016, the tourism minister said on Wednesday, after nearly 30 million foreigners came to its temples, beaches and bars in 2015.

Tourist boats stand at the sunset at Railay beach in Krabi, Thailand, December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Tourism boomed even after the deadliest attack on Thai soil in peacetime at a shrine in central Bangkok shook the country and as a high profile trial for the murder of two British backpackers sullied the industry’s reputation.

Tourism accounts for about 10 percent of Thailand’s GDP and is one of the few bright spots for an economy that underperformed peers in Southeast Asia.

Visitors to Thailand should rise to 32 million in 2016, said Tourism Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, emphasizing that it was not a target but an estimate. That would be more than 7 percent higher than the 29.88 million that visited in 2015.

The government is targeting revenue from tourism of 2.3 trillion baht ($61.02 billion) in 2016, up from 2.21 trillion baht in 2015, she said.

Around 60 to 70 percent of travelers are repeat visitors, she said.

The country providing the most tourists to Thailand was China, with around 8 million in 2015. Malaysia came in a distant second with more than 3 million, and Japan, third with 1.4 million.

Thailand’s central bank predicts the economy will grow 3.5 percent this year, due to government stimulus measures and tourism.

The August bomb attack in Bangkok killed 20 people including 14 foreigners, and injured more than 120 people.

On Dec. 24, two Myanmar migrant workers were sentenced to death for the murder of two British tourists, whose bodies were found on a beach on the southern Thai holiday island of Koh Tao in 2014.

Writing by Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Simon Webb and Jacqueline Wong