Smile Airways plans Bangkok-Kaohsiung services

Bangkok--Thai Smile Airways, a budget carrier under Thai Airways' corporate umbrella, is planning to offer service between Bangkok and Kaohsiung to capitalize on the surge in Thai tourists visiting Taiwan, according to sources in Thailand.

If the plan proceeds, it will be the airline's first route serving Taiwan since it began operations in 2012 and will also break the monopoly on the route currently held by China Airlines (??), one of Taiwan's two biggest carriers.

The new service will likely be launched in the second half of this year but no firm timetable has been set for the new flights at a time when more and more Thai tourists are visiting Taiwan, the sources said.

In 2016, the number of Thai nationals who visited Taiwan rose by nearly 60 percent from the previous year to 195,640, helped by a one-year visa waiver program for Thai visitors that was started in August 2016.

The visa free treatment, which also covered nationals from Brunei, was part of the Tsai Ing-wen (???) government's efforts to forge closer ties with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members and India under the "New Southbound Policy," which aims to reduce Taiwan's economic dependence on China.

Government statistics showed that arrivals from Thailand and Brunei in August to December 2016 rose 81 percent and 62 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

The government is expected to extend the visa free program, which will expire in July, for another year as efforts to attract visitors from the two countries continue to pay dividends.

Thai visitor numbers were also up more than 90 percent in January and February 2017 from the same period last year.

The Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) has forecast that the number of Thai visitors to Taiwan could almost double to 360,000 in 2017.

Thai Smile's parent company Thai Airways flew the Bangkok-Kaohsiung route starting in 1990, but ended the service in 2004.

The sources said Thai Smile's plan was to simply take over the service previously offered by its parent company.

This is not the first time Thai Smile has thought about flying between Bangkok and Kaohsiung. Soon after it began operations in 2012, Thai Smile wanted then to fly the route, but the plan fell through, the sources said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel