Tour operator Golfasian says it expects Thailand to become the world's leading golf travel destination within the next three years, if current trends continue.
Principal Mark Siegel says that more than 750,000 golfers came to Thailand to play during 2012, up by 50 per cent over the past three years. If this pace of growth continues, Thailand will pass Spain as the world’s most popular golf tourism destination in 2015 or 2016.
Siegel estimates golf tourism was worth 86 billion baht or US$2.88 billion in land arrangements alone to Thailand in 2012.
“The past year and the high season now ending have been quite amazing,” he said. “For the first time in several years there was no impediment to Thailand’s huge international appeal – no floods, political unrest or local economic issues. Everything has been ‘go’ and that’s what has happened. Golf tourists have voted with their feet and have overwhelmingly chosen Thailand.”
Siegel expects 15 per cent further growth in 2013 to more than 850,000 golf visitors, worth US$3.68 billion, with the one million mark in visitor numbers expected to be passed in 2015.
This would put Thailand on an equal, or similar, footing with Spain, which has dominated international golf tourism for more than a decade, but has been losing market share to emerging destinations including Portugal, Turkey, North Africa and Asia.
Mark Siegel – who is also the founder of the Golf In A Kingdom marketing collective that includes golf courses, hotels and resorts – says an estimated eight to nine per cent of foreign visitors to Thailand play golf, whereas less than half a per cent of Vietnam’s seven million foreign visitors and about one percent of Malaysia’s 25 million do so.
The reason? “Largely, because of the great experience of playing golf in Thailand – the courses, weather, caddies, tourism infrastructure, friendliness of the people, safety and cost,” he said. “But Thailand also has led the way in promoting golf tourism,” he notes. “Golf is one of Thailand’s four official tourism marketing pillars and, consequently, the government has put a big effort into promoting golf tourism.”
Just as Asia itself is the major supplier of all tourists to Thailand – about 13 million, or 60 per cent of the total – the same applies to inbound golfers. About two-thirds – some 500,000 in 2012 – come from Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, India and, increasingly, China.
“The level of Chinese golf tourism is growing every year,” Siegel says. “Whereas a few years ago, we hardly saw any Chinese golfers in Thailand, it has become reasonably common. There’s no doubt China will be a major feeder market for golf tourism to Thailand and other countries in the future.”
Stacey Walton, the general manager of Banyan Golf Club near the southern resort centre of Hua Hin, says the December to February high season has been a record in both rounds played and revenue for the six-year-old course. “We’re expecting 2013 will be even better with 45,000-plus rounds on the course,” he said.
At nearby Black Mountain Golf Club, which opened in 2007 and has twice been named the best course in Thailand, general manager Harald Elisson says the course has been full every day of the high season. “It has been an extremely good year, but so has every year since we opened,” he said.