The audience at the conference for the 50th anniversary of Thailand tourism
The tourism industry in Thailand is celebrating 50 years of existence this year. The golden jubilee is being marked by the launch of green tourism initiatives, community-based tourism development projects, medical-tourism marketing, and new must-see luxury products for a spoiled and demanding travel market. Tourism in Thailand has been growing since 1960, the year that saw some 81,000 foreign visitors to the kingdom. Today, that number has soared to 14.5 million and is expected to rise to 15.5 million by the end of 2010.
“Thailand remains one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations,” says H.E. Chumpol Silapa-archa, minister of tourism and sports. “It’s well regarded for the quality and variety of its tourist attractions, as a premier shopping venue and its value-for-money in products and services. Billions of dollars worth of investment has poured into the industry, employing about 3 million people in direct and indirect jobs nationwide and contributed to the sustainable development of numerous communities and tourism attractions.”
H.E. Chumpol Silapa-archa, Thailand's Minister of Tourism and Sports
The minister spoke at a grand soiree held at one of the former residences of the King’s family last week while only blocks away rallies by “red shirt rebels” occupied whole avenues calling for the ouster of the prime minister and the return of his predecessor, a telecom magnate who was removed in a coup four years ago with allegations of corruption. The protests started March 12 and have remained mostly peaceful despite the inconveniences of traffic redirection. However, memories of yellow-shirt protestors (supporters of the current regime) blocking traffic and taking over Suvarnabhumi International Airport two years ago may have kept many potential travelers to Thailand away. In fact, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) estimates the current uprisings have cost the country about $67 million so far. Tourism arrivals through Suvarnabhumi have dropped 15 percent in recent weeks, according the Tourism Council of Thailand.
However, neither protests nor global economic woes have stopped the pace of infrastructure development in Thailand. The long awaited express train to the international airport from central Bangkok is slated for a May launch.
In addition, the country has added a spate of new and chic hotels and resorts to its portfolio starting with the Soneva Kiri by Six Senses, which opened in December on the island of Koh Kood in the eastern side of the Gulf of Siam near Koh Chang (the country’s second largest island). The mixed-use development has its own airstrip (air transfers can be arranged from Bangkok); 46 Pool Villas along the beach and hillside; a dozen dining options, including an innovative tree-pod dining experience for two; a Six Senses Spa village; a sophisticated play den for kids; and a cooled carbon-neutral Eco Villa made of natural materials. Rates start at $2,500.
Soneva Kiri by Six Senses in Koh Koodh
In Chiang Mai, three new stylish boutique-lodging experiences can be had. The Puripunn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel has 30 rooms all done up in a fusion of colonial and Lanna decor. The hotel is less than 10 minutes’ walk from the legendary Chiang Mai Night Bazaar at the charming and historical commercial center. The Punne Café is open all hours and serves a variety of meals, including traditional British high tea in a setting fit for Thai nobility. Rooms have modern amenities and services onsite include babysitting, and secretarial and group tour concierge. Room rates average around $133 per night.
The High Resort on the outskirts of Chiang Mai has two zones in a Zen-style retreat of 80 rooms. The new Veranda wing’s contemporary style reflects the area’s Lanna heritage, while the Heritage wing waxes traditional with homage to Thailand’s northern hill styles. The resort sits on a valley slope with views of mountain streams and rice and tea terraces. Rooms have either king or twin beds covered with comfort duvets, open bathrooms and a large private balcony with daybeds. A Romantic Escape package offers guests two nights with breakfast served in-room, private check-in and late checkout, a private candlelit dinner with wine at Rabiang Cha, transportation to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, and a two-for-one treatment at the Veranda Spa. The package costs $530 for Valley Deluxe accommodations and $830 for a Plunge Pool Pavilion or Jacuzzi Pavilion.
Shewe Wana Suite Resort is a new property in the heart of Chiang Mai city with only 15 luxury suites in teakwood that draw on Thai heritage. Each suite has a design-intensive living area and a balcony over landscaped gardens. Nine suites have one bedroom, a bathroom with Jacuzzi and a dressing room, while the six exclusive Royal Suites come with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, one with Jacuzzi. A spa is available and yoga classes are offered onsite. The suites start at $400 per night and include Wi-Fi and airport transfers.
Nights In Koh Samui
In Koh Samui, the Karmakamet Aromatic Hotel, also called The Scent Hotel, is a distinctive new boutique property of 15 rooms, which presents its guests with a selection of imported scents that will perfume the space to their liking on arrival. The resort has several onsite amenities, including regular screening of classic movies in the tea foyer, kayaking, cooling classes and fruit-carving classes. Its Le Jaroen Restaurant offers fine dining under the stars. The hotel has Wi-Fi throughout the property, and provides airport transfers, car rental services, currency exchange, shuttles to other areas of the island and sightseeing information. The HHOMM Spa puts signature scents to work in its aromatherapies. Rack rates run around $176 a night.
Also in Koh Samui is The Library, a member of Design Hotels bringing a lifestyle vacation experience with clean, smart, contemporary design elements, and plenty of electronic trimmings. On the ground floor are The Suites, created as open-air living quarters with such appointments as a lazy chair, bamboo writing desk, deckchairs on garden lawn, Jacuzzi and rain-shower bath design, king bed and pillow menu; iMac computer with free Wi-Fi, iPod Touch and speakers; 42-inch Plasma TV and DVD player with wireless headset; and espresso coffee machine, and a personal snack bar—with daily refills. The Studio layouts on the second floor are slightly smaller—master bedroom with living corner, balcony and bathroom with dressing area as well as many of The Suite amenities. There’s a library here, of course, sleek, white, spacious and open and filled floor to ceiling with books. Average nightly rates start at $419.
Silvadee Pool Spa Resort in Koh Samui presents 19 Pool Villas and 36 Deluxe Rooms looking out onto Lana Nan Beach and the striking rock formations found there. Each villa has its own private pool and aqua massage bed. Butler service is available 24/7 to help with restaurant recommendations, private island tours, babysitting services, private BBQs and other requests. The resort’s private beach, nicknamed “secret beach” by Samui locals, is considered picture-postcard perfect. There is a library onsite, a huge selection of DVDs, complimentary Internet throughout, an expansive wine cellar, and a wine and cigar lounge with stunning views of the Gulf of Thailand. A two-night romance package starts at $626 for Ocean View Jacuzzi accommodations with daily breakfast, bottle of sparkling wine upon arrival, airport transfers, a candlelit dinner for two at The Height Restaurant, a complimentary aromatherapy massage at Silavadee Wellness Spa, late checkout, evening turndown service, free use of kayak and snorkeling gear and free daily shuttle service to Lamai and Chaweng.
AKA Resort Hua Hin is a sanctuary built around the meditative traditions of Thailand. A member of Small Luxury Hotels, all its suites have infinity pools, terraces and gardens. Set in the hills, this property is a lakeside retreat above the seaside resort of Hua Hin, a sanctuary frequented by the Thai royal family and nobility and home to the summer palace of King Rama VII. The resort is a reclusive hideaway just 10 minutes from Hua Hin's charming town center and maintains a monastic tranquility. Guests swim in the 90-foot infinity lap pool, walk a scenic countryside trail around the grounds taking in the mountain, lake and canal views. They can try AKA Art sessions and paint the day away on canvas with acrylic colors. Room rates start at $220 per night.
Putahracsa Hua Hin fuses Mediterranean and Thai designs in its beachfront lodge of private villas and the new 36 SilkSand rooms. Find free Wi-Fi access throughout, meeting space with state-of-the-art AV equipment, business center services, butler service for Oceanbed Villas, Hua Hin Airport greeting and transportation, babysitting and three swimming pools. A day spa features beauty and therapy treatments. Rates start at $133 per night.
Shanghai Mansion in Bangkok’s historical Chinatown district is the city’s first and only chic boutique property. The style is romantic Old Shanghai in a location close to the Grand Palace and Chao Phraya River, bazaars, nightlife and Chinatown’s colorful culture. The hotel’s 76 rooms come in four enticing styles, each reflecting a different era of Shanghai. The Mu Dan (Peony) Suites, for example, displays a living area looking onto the water garden. The luxury bathroom has a free-standing double bath, music system and personal Champagne cooler. The accommodations feature a private terrace for enjoying the garden atrium, with piles of silk pillows to sink into on the spacious Chinese daybed for two. Classic room amenities include TV and DVD player, iPod, Wi-Fi, minibar, unpacking services, books and magazines, candles and in-room breakfast. Published rates run $200 to $333 with significant Internet-booking discounts available.
For more information, call 800-THAILAND or visit www.tourismthailand.org.