Last updated: 10:07 AM ET, Mon June 08 2015

Recovery's the Theme at Thai Travel Mart

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | June 08, 2015

Recovery's the Theme at Thai Travel Mart

Jedi Luang Temple located at Chiang Mai, Thailand (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

Thailand recently held its annual Travel Mart Plus 2015 (TTM+), which brings together buyers from 50 source markets, Thai suppliers, and a handful of suppliers and tourism offices from Thailand’s ASEAN neighbor destinations including Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia China, Vietnam and Myanmar.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) promotes these neighbors in order to strengthen Bangkok’s role as a regional gateway and to strengthen ASEAN as a single destination in long-haul markets. The TAT, seeking a positive spin, is emphasizing the “strong rebound in visitor arrivals in the first half of 2015 and an upbeat outlook for the second half.” The TTM+ hosted meetings between 362 buyers and 375 sellers.

Overall, the buyers were about 46 percent first-timer, and 54 percent repeaters; about 15 came from the U.S. Hotels overwhelmingly dominated the floor of the Mart, a fact that reflects the explosion of boutique properties now vying for overseas travelers. The days when foreign tourists in Asia would retreat every night inside a fortress five-star are over. Travelers are much more comfortable, especially in Thailand, with integrating into the local culture by staying in smaller hotels and eating in local restaurants. That being said, Thailand has many exquisite boutique properties coming up nationwide.

The buyers’ contingent is dominated by tour companies from China, India and the UK as well as emerging markets; such as, Belarus.

Minister of Tourism and Sports H.E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul opened the event saying, “The Thai tourism industry is set for a promising future thanks to increased arrivals projected from China, India and the ASEAN countries, all of which are in our immediate neighborhood. Also, in the first quarter of this year, we have seen a good sign for long-haul markets; such as, Latin America and the USA, Southern Europe, Germany and France.”

The TAT is also broadening its portfolio with the “Muslim Friendly Destination Mega FAM Trip,” which brought about 100 travel agents and media from Islamic countries to the TTM+.

Thai arrivals from January through May 25 reached about 12 million, for a growth of 19 percent and about 578 billion Baht ($18 billion) in revenue. Thailand is in a good neighborhood for short-haul travel as China, which sent about 4.5 million tourists in 2014 is expected to reach 6 million this year. Through March it had already sent 2.03 million, for a growth of 96 percent over the same period of 2014. In 2015, the TAT is targeting 28 million visitors and about $42 billion in revenue.

Despite easy access to potent short haul markets in Asia, Europe and the Americas remain important to the Thai tourism industry. “We consider the U.S. and the U.K. our top markets, but we are getting mostly direct bookings,” said Mattana Sintupachee, the assistant director of sales at the Burasari Group of hotels. “We want to work inside the trade and get into the brochures.”

“Our U.S. business is definitely returning,” said Rattigorn Puengtham, The Peninsula Bangkok’s associate director of sales. “Bangkok is a safe city that’s been misrepresented in the media.”

The TAT is employing the “Discover Thainess” campaign to remind people of what is essentially attractive about the country, the people, and its singular culture. It will emphasize such aspects of Thai life as Thai boxing, Thai massage, Thai cooking, and Thai classical dance. The TAT sponsored a huge section on the floor of the TTM+ dedicated to the 12 “Hidden Gems.” These off-path “emerging new destinations” are being highlighted to spread tourist flow and to give repeat travelers reasons to keep returning.

“When travelers think of Thailand they seem to think of Bangkok, Phuket and other big name destinations,” said Surang Pongsittaworn, a general administration officer at the TAT. “These are great destinations but they can become crowded, and in some of these virgin destinations, traditions and lifestyles may be more intact. We are emphasizing community-based tourism to engage these 12 localities, which are spread out all over Thailand.”

Increasingly, the TAT talks of four tourism subregions in Thailand: the North, the Northeast, the South, and Central Thailand. It may be that we are seeing these divisions so that localities can be more focused in the marketing.

The TTM+ this year saw an emphasis in the experiential and the intimate products such as biking tours, home-stays, street food tours, craft tours, and more. There were powerful presences in such niches as weddings and honeymoons, health and wellness, green tourism, culinary tourism, shopping, river cruises, and yachting.

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