"Several major airlines including Thai Airways International are cutting long-haul flights into Thailand next year in line with a forecast 12-per-cent drop in the number of inbound tourists, said the Association of Thai Travel Agents.
ATTA president Apichart Sankary said that although the Tourism Authority of Thailand targets 17 million visitors next year, only 15 million may arrive.
Starting from today, THAI will suspend its New York-Bangkok service. The company has also reduced flight frequencies, re-routed flights with particular impact on its US operations and introduced other cost-cutting measures.
"Other airlines such as Lufthansa are also considering reducing long-haul flights between Thailand and Europe," said Apichart.
Thailand is expected to miss this year's visitor target of 15.7 million. ATTA, which encompasses inbound travel agencies, expects the number to reach only 15 million.
While domestic tourism will be more sluggish than last year due to political conflict, Apichart attributed the lower number of foreign visitors to efforts in Europe and the United States to lure tourists from the Middle East.
Maitree Narukhatpichai, president of Phuket Tourism Association, admitted that foreign tourists' bookings for the island this month had dropped 15-20 per cent from last year's level due to political tensions, which were driving away visitors from major markets.
Seni Phuwasethavorn, president of the Koh Samui Tourism Business Association, said the high season would not be as active as last year due to the higher cost of traveling.
For instance, the ferry fare from Surat Thani to the island will soon be increased by 20 per cent. Currently, Samui's hotel occupancy rate is at 60 per cent, down from 70-80 per cent in the same period last year."
"Tourism prospects in the approaching high season in Phuket and Phang Nga may not be as brisk as anticipated earlier, as continued rising oil prices are expected to deter some travellers.
Maitree Narukatpichai, president of Phuket Tourist Association, forecast that average hotel occupancy in Phuket in the coming high season from November to April would be 70% this compared with 75% in the 2006-07 high season.
Phuket has a total of 50,000 hotel rooms, up from 40,000 three years ago when many properties were still rebuilding after the 2004 tsunami.
The association projected tourism revenue in Phuket this year would amount to between 94 billion and 95 billion baht.
The hotel occupancy rate in May and June, the trough of the low season, was only 10-15% compared with 50% in the same period last year. The low rate was attributed mainly to high oil prices and the resulting surge in airfares.
Air tickets normally account for about 60-70% of the total expense of visitors.
Phuket has long been popular with Europeans, who are now facing fuel surcharges in the hundreds of dollars on top of the cost of their long-haul air tickets.
However, Mr Maitree said it would be too early to project the precise hotel occupancy rate in the high season, as most of the bookings would be concluded in August.
Should bookings decline, he said local hoteliers may need to design special tourism package to attract the visitors.
Chittiporn Suthipibul, deputy managing director of Khao Lak Resort in Phang Nga province, said hotel occupancy in Khao Lak from May to October was estimated at only 15%, up from 10% in the same period last year. However, the occupancy rate during the high season was expected to rise up to 85% compared with 70% a year earlier. Khao Lak currently has 5,000 hotel rooms, about 80% fewer than before the tsunami.
Last year, Khao Lak attracted 1.8 million visitors, up from 1.1 million in 2006. The figure was expected to top 2.3 million this year. The industry generated about six billion baht in revenue to the area in 2007, with revenue expected to grow to 7-8 billion baht this year."