Last updated: 02:30 PM ET, Mon June 13 2016

Thailand Banking on New Tourism Ideas to Stay Ahead in Southeast Asia

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | June 13, 2016

Thailand Banking on New Tourism Ideas to Stay Ahead in Southeast Asia

Thailand is tweaking its tourism strategy. Following the closure of several islands, including the popular Koh Tachai due to environmental damage, the Southeast Asian destination is attempting to move the tourism focus into new areas. High-end nature tourism and sports tourism were heavily promoted during the latest Thailand Travel Mart, which took place earlier this month in Chiang Mai.

The annual event is usually held in Bangkok, so the fact that it was moved to the smaller northern metropolis was an illustration of this shift.

Sports tourism

In an address that kicked off the event, Thailand’s minister of tourism and sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, highlighted the existing sports infrastructure and special events that are already taking place in this country. As Wattanavrangkul put it, the country is looking to share “what we already have with people from around the world.”

Thailand lacks high-profile professional events, such as a Formula One Grand Prix, but it has a long list of lesser events, including several pro golf tournaments.

Tourism authorities seem to realize that they cannot compete with the likes of Singapore in terms of major international events, but Thailand can stand out from other destinations when it comes to participation sports. The country has more than 300 golf courses and 5,000 boxing gyms where tourists can learn the national sport, Muay Thai. There is also an ambitious plan to construct a total of 93 bicycle routes in communities around the country.

The strategy seems to be to attract an ongoing stream of tourists who come to participate rather than to spectate.

READ MORE: Is Koh Lipe The Most Beautiful Island in Thailand?

Luxury and nature

Luxury tourism has always been a part of the Thai market. Beaches are the focus of many well-heeled travelers. Luxury nature tourism is now growing in popularity in the northern part of the country, far away from the beaches that line the southern coastline.

The Four Seasons brand has two standout properties in the region. The Four Seasons Chiang Mai features suites and residences that are set around gardens and rice paddies. Travelers who can afford the admittedly steep price tag can enjoy the views from the pool, the restaurant, the bar and the over-water open-air yoga studio.

The 15 suites in the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, meanwhile, provide a “glamping” experience for couples. Popular with American travelers, the “camp” offers elephant excursions and a very unique location, right in northernmost Thailand within eyeshot of Myanmar.

READ MORE: Thailand’s Islands on the Andaman Sea: A Backpacker’s Take

The tented camp’s next door neighbor, the Anantara Golden Triangle, doesn’t match the ultra-luxury appeal of either Four Seasons property, but it does have a cutting edge elephant program that gives elephants and their mahouts a place to live and work. The resort has several different elephant experiences, including its newest offering, called Walking with Giants, which allows guests the chance to hike alongside the trunked resort residents as they graze and take their daily bath.

Sustained growth

And what about those overrun islands that had to be closed off to tourists? Pataraporn Sithivanich,  executive director of the Americas Market Division for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said that a universal effort is needed to keep this from happening in the future. “We have to work [with] the tour operators, the media and then the local people, so that they can learn to keep sustained growth.”

The focus on sustainability, along with a greater promotion of nature, luxury and sport, could keep Thailand ahead of the other fast-growing markets in the region.

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