Expats vs. Tourists: Which customer is best for your business in Thailand?

Amidst Covid-19, Thailand experienced a significant shift in its customer demographics, with expats emerging as the primary patrons due to Thailand’s travel restrictions. No longer overshadowed by the influx of tourists seen in 2019, which numbered over 40 million, expats became vital to the survival of many businesses during challenging times. Now, as the situation gradually returns to normal and tourism shows signs of resurgence, there’s a looming question: will expats be sidelined once again in favor of tourists?

In pursuit of profitability, businesses tend to gravitate towards the customer segments with the highest demand. Often this leans towards tourists. However, labeling tourists as “better” customers when compared to expats is rather simplistic. Many factors come into play when deciding which group to prioritize, including location, owner or manager involvement, and consistency.

Location plays a pivotal role, as certain areas cater more to tourists, while others attract expats. The level of owner or manager involvement can also influence customer preferences. Expats may value a sense of community fostered by active engagement from the business owners, while tourists may prioritize quick access and entertainment.

Moreover, ambiance and consistency are key considerations. Tourists often seek vibrant and dynamic environments, while expats may prefer familiarity and reliability.

The decision to prioritize tourists or expats hinges on an analysis of a number of factors. While tourists may represent a larger market, expats can offer stability and loyalty during uncertain times. Striking a balance between these two customer groups may be the optimal strategy for businesses in Thailand seeking long-term success.

When considering whether expats or tourists are better customers for your business, it’s important to evaluate of the  factors that can impact profitability. Let’s break down some key considerations:


Different areas cater to different customer bases. Tourist-heavy locations like Sukhumvit in Bangkok or Beach Road in Pattaya may require higher prices to offset higher rents, but they offer quick access patrons and a constant flow of customers. If it’s your first time in Bangkok, you may not want to stray too far from Sukhumvit and the BTS. Again, landlords have a hand in driving prices as they know they can demand higher rents in these areas. On the other hand, areas like Pratumnak in Pattaya or Ekkamai in Bangkok may attract more expats and locals who are price-sensitive and value consistency.

Customer Expectations

Tourists often seek quick access, convenience, and entertainment. They may not be as price-sensitive as expats but expect quality service and experiences. Expats, on the other hand, may prioritize value for money, consistency, and a community feel. Understanding these expectations is crucial for tailoring the business to meet customer needs.

Operating Hours

Tourist-centric businesses may need to operate longer hours or remain open every day to cater to the unpredictable schedules of tourists. Expats and locals may prefer businesses with consistent operating hours and may be more forgiving of closures on specific days.

Owner Involvement

In businesses targeting expats, owner involvement can play a significant role in building a sense of community and trust. Expats often appreciate knowing the people behind the business and may be more loyal as a result. For tourist-focused businesses, owner involvement may be less critical as tourists are primarily interested in the product and experience.

Ultimately, the decision on whether to prioritize expats or tourists depends on the specific business model, location, and target audience. Some businesses may find success catering to both groups of patrons by offering different experiences or locations. Regardless of the customer base, providing excellent service, understanding customer needs, and adapting to changing market conditions are key factors for success in the hospitality industry.

With nearly 20 years of operating businesses in Thailand, Siam Business Brokers is here to help you on every step of your business journey. Whether its buying or selling a business or assistance with regulatory or legal advice, we can assist you in achieving your business goals.

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