was buffeted by the tsunami in 2004, and rocked by political unrest in recent
months. In June, while attending Thai Travel Mart in Bangkok,
Travel Agent heard hoteliers express
the opinion that Thailand
is coming off a tough year for tourism.
The figures tell another story: Thailand saw 13.82 million
international visitors in 2006, a 20.01 percent increase over the previous
year. The U.S.
accounted for 640,000 of these arrivals, an increase of 9.43 percent. According
to Phorsuri Mancharn, Tourism Authority of Thailand's governor, Thailand is
seeking to boost the total number of international visitors to 14.8 million in
A recent survey conducted by Visa International Asia Pacific
and the Pacific Asia Travel Association of 5,000 international travelers from
ten markets around the world found 52 percent considering Asia as their next
travel destination, a nine percent increase over last year's survey. The survey
found Thailand to be the
number-one preferred destination, followed by Japan
"I've noticed that recent political events in Thailand have
reduced the number of corporate visitors, but not leisure; I would have thought
it would be the other way around," says Jagan Lacsher, director of sales
and distribution for the popular Novotel Bangkok on Siam Square. "I think people are of
the mind that they are not going to have their vacation plans disrupted by
political unrest." In Lascher's eyes, Thailand is looking at a healthy
tourism market for the future.
has recovered from the tsunami and now has a warning system in place throughout
resort areas," says G.W. "Sandy" Ferguson, president of Asia
Desk, Ltd. "Actually, it was Thailand that was impacted the
least by the tsunami but covered the most. What reporter do you know who would
want to spend his time in Banda Ache, Sumatra
as compared to an untouched five-star hotel in Phuket?"
image will be improved when we have an elected government in December,"
says Sethapon Chindanon, regional director, the Americas, Tourism Authority of
Thailand. "I want travel agents to understand that even though we had a
coup, it was a non-violent one. Thailand
is a safe destination."
is in the process of reinventing itself as a cultural destination, a process
started three years ago—before that it was primarily a shopping, nightlife and
beach destination," says Hpone Thant, director of Myanmar-based South Wind
Travels & Tours Co., Ltd.
In months to come, look for Thailand to initiate efforts to
attract the high-end visitor. "Our tourists like adventure during the day
and luxury at night," says Chindanon. "In other words, maybe they'll
ride atop an elephant along a jungle trail, and then return to their hotel to
relax in a spa or have a fine meal." Chindanon adds that the country needs
more four- and five-star hotels.
"In Bangkok, food and beverage is cutting edge,
shopping is international quality and traffic is improved," says Deepak Ohri,
CEO of Lebua Hotels & Resorts Co., Ltd. "In fact, everything is
improving, which is contributing to Bangkok's appeal."
target markets include educational tourism, volunteer tourism, alumni groups,
and special interest travel focusing on the country's culture and history.
"These are tourists who are less interested in sightseeing—they're more
interested in 'life-seeing,'" says Chindanon.
"Most of my clients hit Bangkok,
northern Thailand and one
beach destination, plus Siem Reap in Cambodia
for Angkor Wat," says Karin Hansen, Asia
travel expert, Frosch Travel. Hansen adds that she's getting increased interest
in Thai cooking classes, and the beach destination of Hua Hin is gaining in
popularity. Hua Hin is a three-hour drive from Bangkok
offering upscale getaways for city dwellers, much like the Hamptons for New Yorkers.
Medical tourism was getting some buzz at the Thai Travel
Mart. A recent Research and Markets report, "Opportunities in Thailand
Tourism Industry (2007-2009)," notes that Thailand has been promoting its
healthcare tourism, which entails providing visitors with private healthcare
It is expected that tourist arrivals for the purpose of
medical treatment will reach two million by 2010. September 27-30, at Bangkok's Impact
Exhibition Center, Thailand
will provide a platform for Proud Asia 2007, the first international trade
exhibition and conference on the medical tourism, spa and wellness industries.
The event is expected to attract 15,000 visitors and 300 trade exhibitors from
over 10 countries.
Thai Airways is doing its part to attract visitors. The
carrier's "Discover Thailand Fares 2007," offers a pass that entitles
travelers to fly economy class to three cities within Thailand for
$169, within a three-month period. Additional flight coupons are available, up
to a maximum of eight coupons. All travel must be completed by December 31 and
only in conjunction with international travel to, from or via Thailand.
Qualifying international flights may be via any carrier. Thai Airways
International and Air China
have also teamed to offer packages combining Beijing Olympics 2008 trips with a
pre-or post-Bangkok visit. Both airlines are offering special fares out of a
variety of cities, including New York and Los Angeles. For more
information, visit www.thaiairways.com
One Country, Four Regions
Geographically, Thailand is a diverse country.
Thais generally divide it into four regions, each with its own distinct ethnic
peoples speaking their own dialect and observing their own customs.
is a modern country now—not like when I grew up there in the `60s or ran a DMC
there in the `80s," says Asia Desk's Ferguson.
"It's becoming much like the U.S., with Starbucks and other fast
food outlets in the big cities. Now, you have to get out in the boonies to get
a real experience."
Southern Thailand has a peninsula, with the AndamanSea
on one side and the Gulf
of Thailand on the other.
Popular seaside destinations include Samui, Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi, known
for the Phi Phi islands.
The Central region is largely delta country, dominated by
the Chao PhrayaRiver. While Bangkok is the prime magnet
for travelers, popular destinations throughout the region include Ayutthaya,
the former capital of Thailand and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site;
Kanchanaburi, site of the historic Bridge on the River Kwai; and the upscale
seaside resort area, Hua Hin.
Northeastern Thailand is a vast plateau, flanked by the MekongRiver,
and encompassing part of the Golden Triangle. World Heritage Sites include Ban
Chiang in Udon Thani, where the world's oldest Bronze Age civilization
flourished some 5,600 years ago, and KhaoYaiNational
Park in Nakhon Ratchasima.
The North is cool and mountainous. Stand outs include the
cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and Sukhothai, site of the first
independent Thai kingdom and a UNESCO World Heritage historic town.
is considered the gateway to Indochina countries, such as Cambodia, Laos,
Burma and Vietnam. Tour
operators are increasingly offering Thailand in combination with other
"In the past, we promoted Thailand exclusively," says
Chindanon. "Now we're happy to join forces with other Indochina countries
to form another tourism hub in Asia."
To this end, Thailand
is promoting the range of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Indochina.
"We can't compete alone against the number of sites in mainland China,"
adds Chindanon. "But in combination we can offer an impressive amount of
In addition to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Thailand, these include AngkorWatArcheologicalPark in Cambodia;
Ha Long Bay, Hoi, and My Son Sanctuary in Vietnam;
and the town of Luang Prabang in Laos.
"We've seen an increase in combining Thailand with at least one or two of the
surrounding countries, especially Cambodia,
Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar," says Eric Kareus,
sales manager for Asia Transpacific Journeys. "(Our travelers) also seem
to be traveling throughout the year now rather than during the peak travel
months of November through January." Kareus has some caveats: "I'd
like to see better promotion of lesser-known areas in the country with good
potential for tourism, as well as better infrastructure to facilitate easier
overland border crossings with Laos,
Cambodia and Myanmar."
has always been a strong destination for us," says Jerry Chang, president
of Pacific Holidays. "There have been a couple of hiccups—the tsunami and
the coup—but business always comes right back." Chang gives Thailand high
marks for its diverse offerings—the mountains in the north, the island and
beaches, the history and culture of its ruins and temples. Pacific Delight has
a number of itineraries that combine Thailand with other countries,
including a popular 15-day Thailand Delights program with a three-day Angkor
"We used to sell Japan
by itself or combined with China,"
adds Chang. "In 2007 we introduced a combined Japan/Thailand
"We have not seen any meaningful reduction in business
as a result of recent events," says Rosalyn Gershell, senior vice
president, sales and marketing, Pacific Delight Tours. "After China, Thailand
remains the number-one destination for us—both in combination with China tours and
as a destination on its own." Among its programs, Pacific Delight has a
five-day Bangkok extension that can be added to
its tours that end in Hong Kong, and a 15-day Bangkok, Vietnam
and Cambodia SuperValue program.
"We feel that while Thailand has indeed recovered from
the setbacks posed by the recent events, we feel that the tourism sector has
not yet fully come all the way back," says Evan Chan, director of Ritz
Tours. "The good news is that all signs show this sector to be speeding on
its way to full recovery." Ritz Tours offers Thailand extensions as an
option on all of its Asia programs. The company is continuing to develop new
offerings in combination with other Asian destinations, such as its new 15-day
Tantalizing Thailand tour. According to Chan, the company plans to combine
Thailand with Indochina, China, and Japan.