Thailand looks to balance its tourism strategy

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BANGKOK (eTN)- Originally the Thailand Travel Mart was scheduled in June, like every year. But political turmoils in April and May forced to postpone the event to September.

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BANGKOK (eTN)- Originally the Thailand Travel Mart was scheduled in June, like every year. But political turmoils in April and May forced to postpone the event to September. TTM took then place on September 9 and 10 and it has been a blessing in disguise. The belated hosting served to see if Thailand is now recovering from a turbulent year. “ This TTM ediion is part of our recovery program. And we are so far very satisfied with the outcome of the show which recorded some 335 buyers from 50 countries. We have invited many emerging inbound markets to participate such as Argentina, Mexico, Portugal, Poland or Kazakhstan”, explained at TTM traditional press conference Suraphon Svetasreni, Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Mr Svetasreni has some good reasons to be relatively optimist. Once again, Thailand is bouncing back from a gloomy time, and it bounces back quicker than expected. “Many of us predicted that the market would take six to twelve months to recover. We started to see business back after only six weeks following May events,” tells Chanin Donavanik, CEO of Dusit International (see an exclusive interview with eTN early next week). Mr. Svetasreni indicated that international arrivals to Thailand finally grew by 13.8% from January to July totalling 8.7 million travelers. All markets are recovering strongly except the Americas up by only 1.6% during the same period. Thailand experienced especially a jump in arrivals from the Middle East and South Asia.

“It is a good performance even if we had expected originally a better outcome for the year 2010. Until March, tourist arrivals were growing by 20% on average and all indicators then pointed out to a futher growth in this range for the next months. However, we saw a drop from 20% to 25% in April and May due to political instability. We believe that Thailand will be able to welcome again at least 14 million international tourists in 2010 bringing some US$ 16.5 billion in revenues”, he explains. For 2011, TAT estimates that the country would see over 15.5 million travelers.

For TAT Governor, this rapid recovery is due to the many strong assets of Thailand’s tourism: “The sense of service and welcome of our people, the charm of our Thai culture and Thai way of life bring a strong feeling to many visitors. This emotional connection of travelers to our country is an asset that we will use in our marketing campaign”, he says.

The new marketing campaign is all in balancing trends to speed up tourism’s recovery. Mr. Svetasreni has then developed with his team a marketing strategy including three key dimensions to tourism: the economy, the environment and the society. The well-known emblematic “Amazing Thailand” will be retained for 2011 marketing campaigns and will be underlined with a new slogan “Always Amazes You”. The slogan will reinforce then the emotional value of the country’s brand but also highlights all the assets offered by Thailand to its visitors, from its numerous attractions, sense of welcome to amazing good value offers. However, Mr Svetasreni will also give more emphasis to promote the country to domestic travelers. “We can then reduce the dependence to international markets which are easier affected by events such as recession or natural disasters,” he adds. Of course, political instability would also take its toll on international travelers decisions to come to the Kingdom. International markets identified with a promising potential for Thailand are Eastern Europe, the CIS and North Africa. Thematic activities will also be fostered such as Golf, diving, wellness or luxury wedding and honeymoon. Sustainable tourism as well as eco tourism will be then promoted during the off peak season to turn Thailand into a year-round destination.

Positioning Thailand as a premium luxury destination for honeymooners or medical treatment will help to slowly move away from the period of heavily discounts which were made available following March and April political violences. “Discounting hotel rates is just good for a short time to bring back confidence into our destination. But it is not a long-term solution,” estimates Mr Svetasreni.

The growth of tourism will however only be successful if the country truly embarked into a quality sustainable tourism. “For the first 50 years of Thai tourism, our development largely focused on maximizing economic benefits. However, the next 50 years will require an equivalent focus on minimising the ecological impact of tourism”, adds Mr Svetasreni. Initiatives such as Community-Based tourism or Green tourism have been launched with new awareness campaigns to come over the next months.

Building up an environment-friendly tourism product is probably one of the biggest challenges that Thailand faces. For decades, business practices and political decisions have been closely linked to corruption, most of the time to the detriment of environment protection. However, Mr Svetasreni perceives some positive changes. “ A new way of thinking is emerging and it is very different of what we used to see in the past”, he says. “I see more and more investors or public administrations looking at the environmental impact or at the green issue, often under the pressure from local people, foreign visitors and also the media, prompt to point out issues. It is a good and necessary evolution”, adds the Governor.

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