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September 27, 2007 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent

Bali-Thai Airways will soon add a second daily flight out of New York, Pruet Boobphakam, director of the Southeast Asia and Australasia region for Thai Airways International Public Company Limited, told Travel Agent. "But it won't be an additional flight to Bangkok," said Boobphakam. "Instead we'll be adding a daily flight from New York to Beijing." Expect the new flight to come on schedule after the completion of the Beijing 2008 Olympics, held next August.

During a Tourism Authority of Thailand press conference, Auggaphol Brickshawana, deputy governor for policy and planning for the organization, outlined Thailand's new European marketing initiative, which will eventually trickle into the U.S. This includes a heavy Internet and e-marketing push, with the establishment of an online Thailand Fan Club, which encourages photo sharing and blogs, and a program of inviting select seasoned Thailand travelers to come to Thailand free of charge to experience new products and presumably spark viral marketing.

Staci Fialkoff, president of Source International Travel in Laguna Niguel, CA, was one of the buyers attending the mart. I asked her which Asian country appeared to be the next hot destination. "Vietnam, definitely," she said. "But it has to be done right-I tell my clients they have to see the whole country-the south, middle and north." She said the cities of Hoi An and Hue as being overlooked by tourists intent on Saigon and Hanoi, although they're an important part of a complete Vietnam itinerary.

"I have clients who have money but not time," said Fialkoff. "I discourage them from trying to see Vietnam in six days. You really need 10 days on the ground."

Fialkoff takes frequent trips to Vietnam to keep up on new hotels. She recommends booking a minimum of six months in advance to secure desired rooms. "Business is booming in Vietnam right now, and business travelers-especially those out of China-are snapping up the available five-star rooms," she said.

On the trade floor, I asked Anthony Syrowatka, general manager of The Viceroy Bali, a five-star villa resort in Ubud, which of Bali's selling points could be promoted to inspire Americans to take the long-haul journey to the destination. "You have to start with the people and their genuine friendliness," said Syrowatka. "I've traveled to the U.S. and frankly it's a tip-based culture. Everyone is perfectly polite, but it doesn't ring true. In Bali, it comes from the heart." Syrowatka notes that many of his guests at The Viceroy Bali, a comparatively new resort at only two years old, are repeat guests.

The problem for Bali is that every destination promotes the friendliness of its people. Whether justified or not, it still smacks of hype, so the best communicator of an intangible such as this is word of mouth. But it's a chicken or the egg dilemma: to get word of mouth, Bali first has to attract substantial amounts of visitors from the U.S.

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