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Thailand hopes to score big with sports tourism

Public-private partnerships aimed at encouraging investment in the industry

The Thai government hopes drawing international sporting events, such as MotoGP, will help bring in a record number of foreign tourists this year.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Thailand, hoping to attract more visitors to the country, wants to bring international sporting events to the country through public-private partnerships for sports facilities.

In a recent interview with Nikkei in Tokyo, Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent secretary at Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and Sports, said the country's sports-related revenue, including tourism and apparel, totals $6.37 billion a year. The government hopes to increase that figure by "more than 10% annually," and has made building up Thailand's sports industry part of its "National Economic and Social Development Plan (2017-2021)."

"The government will adopt the PPP model, possibly later this year, for management of sports facilities," Pongpanu said, such as stadiums and swimming pools, to encourage private investment in the industry.

Pongpanu added that Thailand will make it easier for companies to apply for certain tax exemptions and deductions for sports-related investments. The government wants to raise the contribution of the sports industry to the country's gross domestic product from the current 1% or so.

"Thailand is also soliciting more international sporting events," Pongpanu said. It will host MotoGP, an international motorcycle race, for the first time in the northeastern province of Buriram on Oct. 5-7. It has a three-year contract for the event through 2020. PTT Oil and Retail Business, a unit of state-owned oil and gas conglomerate PTT, is a major sponsor of the race.

Pongpanu Svetarundra, permanent secretary at Thailand's Ministry of Tourism and Sports, second from right, poses for a photo at a news conference in Tokyo in late August.

In late August, the ministry held a news conference on the MotoGP event at a hotel in Tokyo, hoping to drum up interest from fans in Japan. Pongpanu said he believes visitors who come for the race will have a significant economic effect, as they tend to stay longer and spend 50% more than the typical tourist. In addition to MotoGP, Thailand plans to promote golf, marathons, cycling and muay thai (Thai kickboxing), among other sports, Pongpanu said.

Despite setbacks this summer, including accidents and natural disasters, the number of international visitors to Thailand jumped 11% on the year to 22.65 million in the first seven months of 2018, according to the ministry, and arrivals may break last year's record of 35 million foreign tourists this year.

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