Juthaporn Rerngronasa, Tourism Authority of Thailand
By Lark Ellen Gould
July 31, 2012 11:45 PM
Thailand has been on a steady bounce-back from last fall when the country was deluged with rain that caused flooding in most parts of the country. Those conditions took a stiff bite out of the tourism industry. But with new programs in place to handle crisis communications, a functioning infrastructure that was able to clean up the flood damage in record time and a new marketing campaign, the country’s tourism is back on track. We spoke with Juthaporn Rerngronasa, deputy governor for international marketing of the Tourism Authority of Thailand at the 11th annual Thailand Travel Mart (TTM) forum held in Bangkok in June.
How are tourism numbers to Thailand this year? International tourism to Thailand is up more than 7 percent over last year in the January to April period. Tourism from the U.S. is up 6.96 percent, representing 263,683 U.S. visitors so far versus 246,531 a year ago. The overall number of tourists predicted for Thailand in 2012 is 20.5 million.
What are the trends in tourism for Thailand over the past decade? And which of those emerging trends has taken hold? The main trend is culture, especially for the U.S. market. This is what we call “Thai-ness.” We think this concept is very strong for the U.S. market. What we are trying to do is put focus on the experience of Thai culture, not only to taste it but also to learn things, to share and to spend time experiencing something new. We find the American market comes mostly for culture and shopping. Americans have beaches that are closer to them so when they come to Thailand they want something that is different -- and that is culture, whether it’s cooking, meditation, Thai massage, kick boxing or even Thai dance. Of course, Americans are now coming for beaches as well, since we are targeting the honeymoon market. This is now 7 percent of our overall tourism business. Our U.S. offices are starting to focus on the honeymoon segment so we are bringing in operators and agents who sell honeymoons to explore Thailand and give them confidence in selling Thailand to U.S. markets. We are aware that it is far away, but we feel Thailand has a lot to offer honeymooners, especially with the range of resorts you can find here in Phuket, Samui, Pattaya, Hua Hin and other beach resorts. Moreover, we offer the warm hospitality and services of the Thai people. This is our strength.
What would you say are the top trends to watch in Thailand’s tourism focus today and as we go forward? Medical tourism is one segment and another is the MICE market, which is growing and is very important to us. Then there is beach, honeymoon and we think that golf is something to watch. We have developed a niche market campaign, “Customize Your Experience in Thailand,” to address these segments: Golf, Ecotourism, Wedding and Honeymoon, and Health and Wellness.
What can you tell us about the “Discover the Other You” campaign. How did it come about and what is the message you are hoping to communicate? Our “Discover the Other You” marketing campaign was launched in May as an interactive digital promotion with packages and contests. It was developed to communicate that you can experience your other self here and you can find yourself in Thailand. Maybe you are a busy professional, but you discover that you enjoy cooking Thai food. This is what we mean by discovering your other self. Or you can be a workingwoman, but you find that you can be a good Thai boxer, too.
How important is the U.S. market to tourism in Thailand? The U.S. market may not be number one in visitor numbers but in revenue the U.S. market ranks very high. The visitors from the U.S. represent about 3.5 percent of overall visitors but they spend an average of $146 a day and some stay for more than two weeks. We feel we would like more of this and hope to double the numbers from this market in the next 3 or 4 years. We are focusing on revenue more than numbers though and hope to increase tourism revenues by 10 percent this year and so far we seem to be on track. We hope to double the revenues of 2012 by 2016, so are looking more toward the high-end market through our niche markets campaign.
What travel agent programs do you currently have going for working with the U.S. travel trade? What changes or new programs may be in the works for keeping travel agents in the US informed and incentivized to sell Thailand? We work close with members of ASTA. And we have virtual training programs, such as the Golden Agent Specialist program, which can be accessed on our main website or at Travel Agent Academy.
In what ways specifically is Thai Tourism making it easy or easier for travel agents to sell Thailand? We are working closely with travel agents to educate them through familiarization trips and to help them experience Thailand for themselves. We are also partnering with tour operators to offer experience packages. You can go our Discover the Other You website to book the experience of a kick boxing camp in Pattaya, for instance. Discover the Other You also shows all the partners we have and packages that agents can book.
What are the things that you think make Thailand such a compelling destination for travel agents to sell? We think it we offer value for the money. In terms of the economic crisis in America, Thailand can be a top destination when you consider the value for the money. It’s not the cheapest destination but here you can find extreme luxury for very affordable rates. And you have the greatest range of choices for places to go and things to do.
Lark Ellen Gould is a veteran travel writer on assignment for TravelPulse.com. She attended the Thailand Travel Mart in June.