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Record number of arrivals expected

International tourist arrivals are expected to surpass the previous 16.5 million target. According to research by the Fiscal Policy Office of the Finance Ministry, 19.5 million visitors are expected by the end of this year.

The ambitious new target may be possible to reach if the political situation in the Kingdom remains stable.

A report by the Tourism and Sports Ministry puts the total number of international arrivals during the first seven months of this year at 11 million _ 25% higher than the same period last year, at 8.8 million visitors.

The top 10 source countries for visitors are China (975,770), Japan (664,066), Korea (598,672), Russia (578,532), India (552,321), the UK (498,675), Australia (451,537), the USA (405,442), Singapore (391,923) and Germany (369,634).

The highest spending visitors are from the United Kingdom, followed by Australia, Malaysia, the United States and China.

The tourism industry in Thailand experienced strong growth during the first six months despite various negative global factors such as political unrest in the Arab world, the impact of the tsunami in Japan, flooding in many parts of Thailand during March and a strong baht as well as an economic recession in Europe and the US.

Thai Travel Agent Association head Charoen Wangananot said he was amazed to see double-digit growth in visitor numbers _ the highest growth during the past four decades.

Charoen said the growth might be because visitors feel safer now as the political situation here starts to improve. In addition, Thailand still have many types of attractions to suit various types of visitors including a rich culture, diverse nature, shopping and medical packages as well as facilities to host international events and fairs.

If Thailand can maintain political stability, the tourism industry will be one of the major sources of income for the country for the next three years, he said.

Trio of Thailand guidebooks

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has spent 4 million baht publishing new travel guidebooks.

Launched last week, the first series is comprised of a set of three books; Thailand, A Night Delight, which promotes attractions in Thailand after sunset, Slow Travel Thailand, which showcases Thai culture and lifestyles and A Trip of a Lifetime, Long Stay in Thailand, which is aimed at senior travellers, especially those from Europe.

The second project is to launch medical tourism guidebooks in English and Arabic, which will be available within the next two months.

New bypass In Chiang Mai

The Department of Rural Roads will spend 980 million baht to build a 13.8km bypass in Chiang Mai.

The four-lane road will ease traffic on Highway No 108 linking San Pa Tong and Hang Dong, according to Vichan Kunagulsawat, the department's director general.

Construction is expected to be completed within the next two years.

Airlines update

- Oman Air has joined hands with Piyavate Hospital to offer passengers flying from Muscat, the capital of Oman, a 50% discount off the regular cost of the hospital's check-up programmes.

In addition, they will receive up to 20% discounts for treatments. The offer is valid for Oman Air passengers until Dec 31.

Oman Air offers daily flights between Muscat and Bangkok.

- British Airways has distributed iPads to 100 cabin crew as a pilot test project to improve onboard customer service.

The iPad allows crews to quickly identify passengers after seating plus the names of their companies or quickly search for requests for any special meal. In addition, the iPads also have timetables, safety manuals, customer service updates and can keep log information to exchange with ground staff.

The airline aims to roll out iPads to all senior crew in the near future.

- AirAsia has launched a self-check-in service through the airline's website, smart phones and Android-based devices.

The web and mobile check-in services are available from seven days to one hour and to four hours before departure flights for AirAsia and AirAsia X, respectively.

After checking-in via the web, passengers need to print out their own boarding passes while mobile check-in users will receive a 2D barcode confirmation. Passengers with baggage must leave their luggage and verify travel documents at drop-off counters.

The application can be downloaded from the BlackBerry App World, iTune App Store and Android Marketplace.

Hotels Update

- Centara Hotels & Resorts will soft launch its first property in Khon Kaen at the end of this year.

Called Centara Hotel & Convention Centre Khon Kaen, the 12-storey hotel is owned by Khon Kaen Buri Company and will be managed by Centara.

The hotel will feature 196 rooms, a large convention hall to accommodate up to 2,500 guests, a ballroom and function rooms. Other facilities include a spa, a fitness centre, restaurants, a pub and a club lounge.

It is located near Central Plaza Khon Kaen shopping mall and about 15 minutes from Khon Kaen Airport.

Visit www.centarahotelsresorts.com for more details.

- General Hotel Management (GHM) has announced it will only use organic products in its spas worldwide.

Starting at the Chedi Hotel in Chiang Mai, the new products have been approved by the Soil Association in the United Kingdom and the USDA in the United States for containing no harsh chemicals, no parabens and no toxins.

A two-week training session was conducted in the hotel by GHM spa trainers and managers from Miami and Muscat before expanding the programme to the Nam Hai in Vietnam. Within the next six months, the organic products will also be used in The Chedi Muscat in Oman, The Setai in Miami, The Legian in Bali and The Chedi Club Tanah Gajah in Bali.

- Six Senses will host 'Film the Rocks', a showcase for art and movies at Six Senses Yao Noi in Phang Nga in December.

The four-day event will display films on the rocks of Phang Nga Bay. Joining the show will be actress and cultural activist Tilda Swinton and Palm d'Or award-winning director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

The hotel plans to host the event annually, with this year's from Dec 16-20.