Recommend’s Asia/South Pacific Editor, Sergio Ortiz, had a chance to chat with TAT Governor, Thawatchai Arunyik, at the Thailand Travel Mart Plus held on June 4-6 to talk about safety issues in Thailand.
Sergio Ortiz (SO): How is TAT coping with the recent political turmoil and how is it reassuring visitors that Thailand remains a safe destination?
Thawatchai Arunyik (TA): TAT is closely monitoring the situation in order to assure that Thailand remains a safe destination. Regular information updates are being provided through online media with images, clips and information. A daily situation update is also being distributed to all media and travel trade contacts worldwide and published on tatnews.org.
On May 22, the Thai military took control of the country to ensure peace, safety and security for the general public and for visitors. The original nationwide curfew has been relaxed (It originally ran from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. It is now from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m.) However, it is important to note that all public transport and tourist attractions, including airports, tourist sites and shopping malls, are open and operating as normal, although they have had to adjust their operating hours to comply with the curfew.
As such, tourists visiting Thailand can still enjoy their holiday in the kingdom’s major tourist destinations including Ko Samui and Phuket. [This has been widely reported] by local and international media, as well as by tourists themselves and through travel bloggers via various social media outlets.
All airports in Thailand remain open and passengers with arrival and departure flights scheduled during the curfew can travel to-and-from the airports at any time, but may be required to show travel documents at security checkpoints.
SO: What advice are you able to provide American travel agents selling Thailand as a destination?
TA: TAT has maintained good relationships with many American travel agents for a long time. As such, we are willing to cooperate with them and with tour operators in terms of providing them with useful information like market profiles and emerging destinations—including making suggestions and insight about what the market needs. Apart from this, TAT has been doing its best to provide accurate and latest situation updates to affirm operators and travelers’ confidence about sending clients to Thailand.
U.S visitors have always enjoyed [Thailand’s] unique culture, heritage and traditions. It’s no surprise that the U.S. provides one of our highest rates of repeat visitors. We would like to encourage more trips to Thailand’s northeast.
The northeast has seen some wonderful new boutique hotels open recently. They are perfect for small, exclusive groups seeking to better explore the region while lodging in comfortable surroundings.
Ubon Ratchathani is one of the most important provinces of northeast Thailand. It’s probably best known as a gateway to Laos. During the winter season, some beautiful attractions in Ubon Ratchathani include the flower fields on top of Soi Sawan Waterfall, the Dong Na Tham Forest, the Sao Chaliang Rock Pillars and Huai Pok Waterfall. This is also where one finds what may be the world’s most spectacular candle-wax sculptures.
Nong Khai, the first Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong linking the Thai province of Nong Khai with the Laotian capital of Vientiane, opened in 1994 with Australian government funding.
Mukdahan, a second Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos, opened in December 2006 and links two provinces on both sides of the Mekong, Savannakhet in Laos, and Mukdahan in Thailand.
Chiang Khan, this small town sits on the banks of the Mekong in Loei province. People here are descendants of Laotians who migrated from Luang Prabang. As a result, this Loei town is abundant in Laotian architecture and culture. Visitors cannot miss a chance to check-in at a nice guesthouse and then be impressed with the astounding views of the Mekong.
We believe many of these destinations will become popular because the Asian Highway is a convenient way to get around the region. At the same time, low-cost airlines need to start doing feasibility studies on the profitability of these routes. There is no doubt that these destinations are the future of intra-ASEAN travel.
SO: Are there new incentives, perks or other points to make travel agents think of Thailand foremost when selling Asian destinations?
TA: Thailand is still truly a value destination when compared to its competitors in Asia and other long-haul destinations. Sellers of Thailand are able to offer their clients much higher quality hotels, tours and service levels at a lower price than in other destinations. The TAT Los Angeles office is increasingly working with travel agents to create more awareness and confidence in selling Thailand. This has most recently included targeted sales incentives with travel agent consortiums and opportunities for proven sellers. Moving forward, TAT LA plans to work even closer with the travel agent community to develop and increase travel agent sales to Thailand through training and incenitve measures.
SO: Since Thailand is one of the world’s most popular destinations, what are some steps taken by TAT to maintain its reputation in attracting visitors?
TA: In 2014, our promotional concept [Higher Revenue through Thainess] will be rigorously implemented in order to attract more middle and upper-income visitors as well as niche-market visitors.
Our new marketing tagline and focus on “Thainess” is in fact about cultural integration. Thainess is our unique selling point and is designed to create unforgettable impressions. Thainess is Thai culture, art, food and way of life all rolled into one. [We hope that] for visitors these unique characteristics [will] build an emotional bond with Thailand, lead them to share their experiences with family and friends and return year after year. Today’s travelers are choosing destinations and services that satisfy deeper needs for participation, creativity, community, and idealism. We believe the experience of visiting Thailand and getting a feel for its culture and heritage satisfies those desires.
We are also entering new markets with a focus on increasing revenue from first-time travelers…We also want to increase the share of high-net-worth visitors in large markets.
The media plays a major role in our marketing and promoting strategies. We maintain an extensive network of media contacts all around the world and dispatch regular updates and news releases through our regular distribution channels, as well as through our recently revamped website tatnewsroom. In recent years, the definition of media has also changed. As a result, we are making major efforts to step up our presence via both online media and social media. All of our online strategies are targeted at young people and make powerful use of the fun factor, incentives and interactivity to attract them.
SO: How many Americans visit the Kingdom?
TA: The number has traditionally increased from 611,792 in 2003 to 823,000 in 2013. Moreover, in spite of the current political situation, we still have seen a significant increase of tourist arrivals to major tourist destinations outside Bangkok—places like Phuket, Samui, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai.
SO: Are there any future plans to alter or reformat Thailand’s current promotional drives?
TA: Yes. Our marketing plans now have to be adjusted in many areas, depending on the situation in each market. Although there has been a downturn in arrivals since the coup, there are millions who are still coming. In January-April 2014, for example, we received 8.6 million visitors. This means that 8.6 million people were confident about traveling to Thailand.
Hence, there are millions of others all around the world who still have confidence in Thailand. We will continue to use our powerful marketing strategies, strong online presence [particularly with online travel agents] and energetic partnerships with airlines to reach out to those who feel that Thailand remains a great place to visit. Of course, every country and region will require a different strategy and budget allocation. It all depends on, among others, the specific target market, seasonality, accessibility and demographic factors.