A Natural Thai Choice

Thailand is attracting increasing numbers of visitors from the U.S., and you can capture your slice of this market by talking up the diversity of experiences this destination offers. Pa Hun National Park

Thailand is very popular among those looking for an upscale vacation, says Peggy Peterka, marketing manager of the western region for the Tourism Authority of Thailand. "There truly are five-star-plus resorts of great value for the more upscale traveler and those approaching upscale," she says. Nightly room rates at most five-star properties start at about $120, she notes.

There are the locales that immediately spring to mind among agents and first-time travelers alike, and rightly so, including Bangkok, Koh Samui, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Beyond these icons, though, there are other destinations that appeal to U.S. travelers. This gives agents the ability to create interesting pairings for clients in terms of where to go and what to do.

Khai Yai National Park, Najon Ratchasima

"Adventure is big in Thailand, from soft right up to real adventure," Peterka adds. "More and more, we're finding that travelers want an experience. They don't want to sit on the coach and watch the countryside go by," she advises agents.

"They want to get out and see and touch and feel, and get to know the locals."

An area that should be on agents' radar screen for these travelers—whether repeat or first-time visitors to Thailand—is Isan, in the northeastern part of the country.

Isan really hasn't been touched by tourism yet, she notes, and while it's less commercial at this point, it does have a good infrastructure in terms of lodging and diversions.

"You really get to see the typical Thai people and their culture, also some great ruins," Peterka points out. "It's a very interesting area, much more low-key and authentic."

Loei in the Isan area of Thailand

There are river tours, intriguing temples and ruins, handicrafts, great food, agriculture and national parks. Travelers are able to immerse themselves in the countryside. Khao Yai & Phu Kradueng National Parks

Depending on their interests, travelers could easily spend most or all of their trip in Isan, she says.

For such travelers, Peterka advises that agents suggest their clients base themselves at a succession of properties so they can explore each area for a couple of days and then move on.

Peterka's advice for Isan-bound travelers? "Allow yourself to relax and get in the spirit," she says. "It's a shame when people try to rush." Take that two-hour massage and make time to enjoy the cuisine, she adds.

Indeed, when we spoke with Peterka, she'd already visited Isan 10 times in the last two years and was anticipating—and mapping out—her return.

Essential link: www.tourismthailand.org