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Thailand Races to Expand Airports for Tourist Rush

July 4, 2013

It’s getting a little bit crowded these days at Thailand’s airports, as a tourist boom has stretched them beyond their original capacity.


Take a look at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the main aviation hub of Thailand. It was built to handle 45 million passengers a year. But it is already seeing 53 million passengers annually – or 8 million extra fliers going through security and customs, using the baggage carousels and restrooms, and requesting seat reassignments. Eventually, the airport manager hopes, Suvarnabhumi could handle as many as 120 million passengers a year.

Suvarnabhumi is now getting ready for a new passenger terminal, more parking bays and a new runway that will enable it to handle 60 million fliers by 2017 Airports of Thailand AOT.TH -0.89% Public Company Ltd. (AOT), which manages six main facilities across the country, announced it will spend 62 billion baht — $2 billion — on the project.

The project reflects the importance of tourism to Thailand – one of the top industries of the Southeast Asia nation.

The Thai Department of Tourism reported that during the first five months of this year, international tourist arrivals jumped 21% on year.

Such an increase is in line with reports from the Airports Council International, which ranked Suvarnabhumi Airport as Asia’s sixth-busiest and the Association of Southeast Asian Nation’s second-busiest airport in the period from 2011 to 2012. It was also named the 14th-most visited airport in the world in 2012.

Expansion projects are under way at Thailand’s other two smaller airports. They are:

* Don Mueang International, located north of Bangkok and reopened in 2012 to help relieve the congestion at the main airport, is handling 16 million travelers annually, but was intended to handle 10.5 million. The renovation of its second terminal is expected to be completed within a year to boost capacity to at least 20 million passengers.

* Phuket International, which handles travelers heading to Thailand’s famous beaches, is stretched as well, with 9.5 million passengers a year, well above the 6 million it was designed to handle. The airport’s managers are now constructing a new terminal and more parking bays.

“With the government actively promoting Thai tourism and more travelers expected after the ASEAN Community comes into effect in 2015, the government needs to act as quickly as possible to efficiently handle the expected influx of visitors,” said Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, chairman of the Association of Thai Travel Agents.

But upgrades can cause their own headaches.

Repair work last year on one of Suvarhabhumi’s two runways delayed flights.

Thinking of how to avoid such annoyances for visitors, Tourism Council of Thailand President Piyaman Tejapaibul said the airport’s managers “should clarify its expansion policy, especially [about] the new runway, before the high travel season arrives [in October]. “

In addition to the airport expansion, calls have been made for the improvement in other facilities and infrastructure, such as roads and rail systems to destinations to bolster the tourism industry.

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