Thailand's Fresh Start For Tourism In 2009

Enticing visitors in the midst of an economic downturn is hard enough. Add a black eye from non-stop news cycles and you suddenly have a double whammy to contend with.


A Double Pool Villa at Banyan Tree Phuket

Thailand is an appealing and friendly country, so it’s ironic that it now finds itself dealing with an image problem in the wake of last November’s protests, which shut down Bangkok’s airport and stranded thousands of travelers. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) estimates the protests cost $4 billion in lost revenue and caused 1 million foreign visitors to cancel their plans to visit Thailand. The debris from this dust-up had barely settled before another demonstration broke out in Bangkok. All of this took place when the country was reeling from 25 percent occupancy in its hotels.

The Tourism Authority was quick to offer apologies to stranded travelers. In a bid to lure back visitors, Thailand is considering a move to waive visa fees for all tourists for three months. Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has also suggested that the country may discount aircraft landing fees. Currently, visitors from the U.S., most European nations, Japan, Australia and New Zealand (41 countries in all) do not require a visa to enter Thailand if their stay does not exceed 30 days. Nearly 14.2 million tourists arrived in Thailand in 2008, below the targeted figure of 15.7 million.

Even so, there’s optimism afoot. “I think we’re looking at a good year for Thailand’s tourism,” says Peggy Peterka, marketing manager, Western U.S.A. at TAT. “Because of the airport closures, hotels and tour operators are offering special deals and promotions. This could be one of the best times ever to see Thailand.”

TAT launched a Thailand Super Deal promotion and created a new logo and marketing tag: “Amazing Thailand, Amazing Values.” The campaign can be seen on, where potential visitors can find links to accommodation deals and other incentives. Twenty-four hotels and 11 tour operators have launched a “One Price All Destinations” campaign that offers room rates discounted to 2,000 baht (about $57) per person per night. This discounted rate also includes breakfast, dinner and airport transfers. Hotels participating in the campaign are located throughout the country. The deals are being offered through February 28 for travel through June 30 and can be viewed at

“Agents are slowly reacting to the new offers,” says Peterka. “Many of these hotels are unfamiliar to U.S. agents—if they don’t know it, they won’t book it.” Peterka acknowledged that the Thailand Smiles Again promotion is mainly targeted toward the European and Asian market.
Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts is one company that is part of the promotion. When guests book a stay at either the Banyan Tree Bangkok or Banyan Tree Phuket up until April 30, they’ll receive one complimentary night. Room rates are currently available from $150 for a two-night stay. Visit


Outrigger Serenity Terraces Resort Phuket consists of luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments

At Banyan Tree Bangkok, the best rooms to book are the Banyan Tree Club rooms on floors 48-50. These are popular for the privacy they offer, as well as their views of the cityscape on the south side of the building, and views of the Chao Phraya River on the north side.
Victor Koi ([email protected], 805-449-0080) is Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts’ regional director, marketing, for the Western U.S.A. He’s the contact on the West Coast for Banyan Tree Bangkok and Banyan Tree Phuket. For the East Coast, the sales contact is David Woodward ([email protected], 212-515-5693), regional director, marketing, Eastern U.S.A.

New Resorts

This April, Outrigger Enterprises Group will open the Outrigger Serenity Terraces Resort Phuket. This new luxury resort will be the company’s first planned major expansion into Thailand and Asia. The property consists of 78 luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments, most with Andaman Sea views. The resort includes several exclusive penthouses, each with a rooftop terrace and sun deck. Some units have their own rooftop lap pool. Outrigger Serenity Terraces Resort Phuket also includes beachfront duplexes with private swimming pools.

Carlson Hotels Worldwide–Asia Pacific (CHW-AP) has a two-year Thailand expansion in the works. The company will open new hotels in Thailand across its three core brands: Regent Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels & Resorts and Park Plaza Hotels & Resorts. Four of the seven hotels are in Bangkok: the 436-room Radisson Hotel Bangkok Sathorn; the 170-room Radisson Suites Bangkok Sukhumvit; the 142-room Park Plaza Bangkok Asoke; and the Regent Bangkok, a 321-room luxury development.

Phuket will see two new CHW-AP managed properties by the end of this year—Radisson Plaza Resort Phuket Panwa Beach and the Regent Phuket Cape Panwa. The Radisson Resort & Spa Krabi will open at a later date.

Shorter Trips and Cutting Costs

“From the U.S. we get more of the upscale market,” observes Peterka, who adds that this segment is cutting back. “Instead of three trips a year, they might have plans for only one,” she says. “They’re still traveling, but they’re more cost-conscious and they’re taking shorter trips.” She says TAT will continue to market to upscale groups.

“Agents are saying that their clients aren’t expressing concern about the protests,” Peterka says. “The main problem for Thailand’s tourism is the economy in the U.S.”

Peterka also revealed a reassuring detail about what occurred during last year’s shutdown of the airport: “The protesters were feeding the stranded travelers snacks in the airport. That’s the level of hospitality you’ll find in Thailand.”