Just more than a year ago, five-star hotel, the Anantara Siam, with its gilded murals and landscaped courtyards, cost $150 a night, including a breakfast buffet that was truly fit for royalty. Even the most expensive souvenir in town, an elephant figurine with inlaid mother of pearl, cost less than a typical outing to McDonald’s in New York.
Yet, according to a visualisation of recent UN World Tourism Organisation data by HowMuch, a financial literacy and infographics agency, Thailand outranks every other nation in Asia when it comes to tourism spend.
Last year, it collected $57 billion in international tourism receipts, nearly doubling Macao ($36 billion), Japan ($34 billion), Hong Kong ($33 billion), and China ($33 billion). Globally, the only countries that out-earn Thailand in terms of tourism dollars are France ($61 billion), Spain ($68 billion), and the United States—which handily takes the gold medal, at $211 billion.
It all comes down to volume. Foreign arrivals could hit 40 million next year, which is more than half the country’s population.
“In Thailand, you’ve got something for everybody,” says Rebecca Mazzaro, a specialist for bespoke outfitter ATJ. “From the private island with the private villa to amazing street food meals that only cost a couple bucks, it has a diversity and variety that exists in few other markets. It’s no surprise lots of people are going—and spending,” she says.
Though gaps in the WTO’s data make it difficult to ascertain the per-visitor spend in each of these countries, given recent and forthcoming developments, that number is likely to be rising. “There’s no question that historically Bangkok—and Thailand in general—has always been perceived as a value destination,” says John Blanco, general manager of the forthcoming five-star Capella Bangkok, opening next spring with 101 suites facing the Chao Phraya River. “But there has been a real effort to shift that perception.”
Mastercard’s annual Global Destination Cities Index recently ranked Bangkok as the most-visited city in 2017 for the third year in a row. The study, based on undisclosed public data sources, rather than cardholder transactions, indicates that travellers shell out $173 for a day in the Thai capital, compared to $537 in Dubai or $286 in Singapore. This year, it forecasts travellers will spend an additional 14 per cent more.
By next year, the city will have gained even more opportunities to spend, such as superlative new resorts from Four Seasons, Rosewood, Mandarin Oriental, and Waldorf Astoria, plus a $1.6 billion Bal Harbour-esque mixed-use retail development called Icon Siam. When it opens in November, the latter will claim restaurants from top-tier chefs, including Alain Ducasse and an outpost of Tokyo department store Takashimaya. The Capella hotel will house Mauro Colagreco restaurant, whose Mirazur in Menton, France, has two Michelin stars. “There’s a lot more meat on the bone now,” Blanco says of luxury offerings in the capital.
Dino Michael, global head of Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts, agrees. “We’ve been noticing the upscaling of Bangkok for a few years,” he tells Bloomberg. “The consumer has become more sophisticated; the dining scene has become more sophisticated.”