* Expects overall tourist arrivals up less than 5% this year
* Sees 2020 Chinese tourists around last year’s 11 million
* Predicts more than 30% jump in Indian visitors this year
By Satawasin Staporncharnchai
BANGKOK, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Thailand is expected to see a less than 5% increase in overall foreign tourist arrivals this year due to a global economic slowdown, intensifying competition and a strong currency baht, a tourism body said on Wednesday.
The country welcomed a record 39.7 million foreign visitors last year, but missed a target of 40 million - partly due to the very strong baht, Chairat Triratanajaraspon, president of the Tourism Council of Thailand, told Reuters.
“The number of tourists is still rising but not much. We used to see more than 10% growth earlier, but this year we expect less than 5%,” he said.
Tourism is a key driver of Thailand’s economy, but the strength of its currency has cut tourists’ purchasing power, particularly of those from China, Thailand’s biggest source of visitors, Chairat said.
The council predicts the number of Chinese visitors this year to be around last year’s 11 million, as more Chinese holidaymakers are travelling to other countries in Asia, he said.
Another reason that Chinese tourist numbers are not seen growing much is the baht, which rose 10.7% against the Chinese yuan last year, and “that has had quite a big impact”, he said.
The baht was also Asia’s best performing currency with a nearly 9% rise against the dollar in 2019.
The council expects about 800,000 Chinese tourists to visit Thailand during the Lunar New Year later this month, close to last year’s numbers, Chairat said.
However, the number of India tourists are expected to jump more than 30% this year from more than 2 million in 2019, as the base is still small, he said.
“They mainly come here to hold weddings and for honeymoon,” he said. “So we should target this market with higher purchasing power.”
India is Thailand’s third biggest source of tourists after China and Malaysia. (Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Alex Richardson)