Thai Tourism Overcoming Setbacks

Earlier this month, Travel Agent was on site in Bangkok for Thailand Travel Mart 2007 Plus. Thailand's biggest annual travel marketplace targeted 300 buyers from key and emerging markets and 400 sellers from Thailand and the Mekong region. Bangkok's Central World Plaza

The word on the convention floor was that Thailand is coming off a tough year for tourism, although the figures tell another story. The country saw 13.82 million international visitors in 2006, a 20 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 2007.

"Thailand tourism is leveling off—it's reached a saturation point," says Hpone Thant, director of Myanmar-based South Wind Travels & Tours Co., Ltd. "The country 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."

Floating market

Thailand had its share of negative publicity due to last year's successful coup and recent unrest in southern Thailand. Even so, a recent PATA study of 5,000 international travelers from 10 markets around the world found Thailand the number-one preferred destination, followed by Japan and China.

"Thailand's 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."

What's New

Thailand has been promoting healthcare tourism and providing visitors with private healthcare facilities. It is expected that the number of tourists arriving for the purpose of medical treatment will reach two million by 2010.

It was announced that Thai Airways International and Air China have teamed to offer packages combining the Beijing 2008 Olympics with a Bangkok visit. Both airlines are offering special fares out of a variety of cities, including New York and Los Angeles.

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