Price war boosts Japan tours

Tour packages to Japan have experienced a sharp price drop thanks to cut-throat competition among charter flights and low-cost airlines, allowing Thai tourists to enjoy trips to the Land of the Rising Sun at historically low prices.

Japan tour packages are now available at about 20,000 baht or slightly higher, the rate which is considered under cost.

Anake Srishevachart, president of the Thai-Japan Tourist Association, said the price war has been intensified by aggressive marketing of low-cost and chartered airlines for the Bangkok-Tokyo route.

“It is a real consumers’ market," Mr Anake said.

Japan tour packages used to cost as much as 40,000-100,000 baht, but after the Japanese government waived visas for Thais in July last year, several airlines, especially low-cost carriers, started offering tour services for 20,000 baht or slightly more for a trip of three nights and four days.

Since the visa exemption, Thai people have been flocking to Japan. Their number has more than doubled in some months compared with figures in corresponding periods in 2012.

The number of Thai visitors soared by 74% last year to 453,642. In the first quarter of this year, the number rose by as much as 64% to 132,000.

Mr Anake believes the figure will exceed 500,000 this year, citing Japan as a dream destination for most Thai people that can be visited all year long and frequently.

However, Chotechuang Soorangura, associate managing director of NS Travel & Tours Co, said that despite fierce competition, Japan is unlikely to become a cheap destination like South Korea because Japan has strong tourism products and its government effectively controls tour quality. He brushed aside the emergence of so-called zero-dollar tours to Japan.

“Zero-dollar tours’’ offer very cheap package deals to Thailand, but once here tourists are then pressured into buying overpriced goods and services.

He said that Thais love to visit Japan because they like its culture, food, films and pop music.

“What is good and cheap does not really exist. Consumers must study the details of the cheap tour packages thoroughly. But most tourists are generally satisfied with photography and shopping, so tour packages lasting a few days may interest them,” Mr Chotechuang said.

“Many travel agents serving trips to Japan say it is very easy to conduct tours for Thai people because they only like sightseeing and shopping and do not need any in-depth historical knowledge as Thai people are not good listeners,” he said.

Mr Chotechuang said there have been reports that some Japanese people do not like Thai tourists because they are loud and impolite.

Thais have been seeking refuge from the unrelenting heat and humidity by travelling to cooler places such as the beach, mountainous regions or overseas, according to global travel search company Skyscanner.

The most popular destination in Thailand searched over the hottest weekend of the year so far was Phuket, with 14% of travellers looking to fly there to escape temperatures that rose to as high as 39 degrees.

“Over the April 26-27 weekend, which was predicted to be the hottest of the year, we saw a significant number of flights booked to Phuket and Koh Samui, as well as Chiang Mai,” said Grace Pobpabha Areerat, Skyscanner's marketing manager for Thailand. "Internationally, travellers were looking to head straight to Tokyo or London for a refreshing, cool-weather change."

In 2013, the hottest day fell on March 23 (37 degrees), with the most popular domestic cities people travelled to remaining the same this year. Three of the most popular international destinations then were London, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul, but Tokyo has jumped to the top of the list.

Coupled with the recent visa exemption, this aligns with Skyscanner’s prediction in November last year that Japan would continue to be the most popular international destination for Thai people in 2014.

“Considering the numerous public holidays, it’s not a surprise that people want to take advantage of the travel time, but we were surprised to see a big boost like this, particularly to popular beach spots and cooler cities,” said Ms Grace.

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