Mr Yuthasak Supasorn made his debut at WTM 2015 as the new governor for the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT.) Expectedly, there were a lot of questions for him on the European market and its importance and projections for Thailand. In response to a question on the incentives offered to European air carriers, tour operators and MICE organisers for promotiing Thailand, Mr Supasorn said that the TAT London office has a partner-on-demand understanding with many tour operators and travel agents.
Arrivals from Europe have historically played a key role in the development of Thailand’s tourism industry. For the period Jan-Sep 2015 alone, European visitor arrivals to the kingdom totalled nearly 4-million, generating 4.9-billion GBP; the projection for the year is 6.38-million European visitors with an estimated 8.2-billion GBP tourism revenue. European tourists tend to stay for longer durations, for e.g. Sweden (19.48 days) Germany (17.53 days) the UK (17.13 days) the Netherlands (16.87 days) and Italy (15.83%.)
Commenting on the 2020 Vision for Thailand, the Governor said: “Major changes are being made in Thailand’s political, administrative, economic, legal and social systems to pave the way for a more just, balanced and democratic society. Changes of this magnitude cannot be made overnight, but we are working at it.”
With 45-million tourist arrivals projected for 2020, the most common apprehensions remain the management of these tourists; public transportation quality and network; the Thai taxi drivers and their inadequate English language skills; and the consistency in tourism and hospitality services offered. The Governor stated that TAT’s marketing plan for 2016 would focus on promoting the kingdom as a “quality leisure destination through Thainess.” This wording is significant, as it puts an end to decades of focussing on ‘quantity’ and now shifts to ‘quality’ as measured by visitor expenditure, average length of stay, and the overall visitor experience. In terms of managing the tourists, the Governor said he was hopeful that the introduction of the The 12 Hidden Gems’ and ‘the 12 Hidden Gems Plus’ packages in a bid to promote secondary destinations within Thailand would help decrease the congestion of tourists to the usual popular spots. “We are working on all the challenges; it is work in progress,” he assured.
There is also a widespread perception about Thailand’s image in the eyes of the western world, particularly in relation to issues such as safety and security, child exploitation, sex tourism, and more. “It will take time to overturn some of the more entrenched ways of doing things, but we are committed to staying the course (and) a lot is already being done,” the Governor said. He clarified that the Royal Thai government has enforced a series of measures such as clamping down on illegal taxi operations at Bangkok and Phuket airports, or clearing beach encroachments. With regard to enhanced tourist safety, he said that more lighting, surveillance cameras and tourist police numbers are being implemented.
Travellers also worry about adequate infrastructure and such-like. The Governor fielded that by saying that Thailand had a well-equipped transportation service with six international airports and an extensive rail network across the country as well as the Skytrain and subway services in Bangkok.
As mentioned elsewhere, TAT has aggressively stepped up its marketing tactics, bringing a fresh, out-of-the-box thinking to its campaigns. Next up after the WTM is the ATF in the Philippines in January 2016 where TAT will be reiterating its marketing strategies within the broader context of the forthcoming ASEAN integration.
Speaking on how the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will benefit European tourists, Mr Supasorn said that when facilities are improved for one market segment, such as intra-ASEAN travellers, everyone benefits in one way or another. European travellers can visit the ASEAN countries without visa requirements even now, however, the major improvements made across the board with respect to products and services will be a definite advantage. “Regional integration mechanisms will help the 10 member countries better position the region as a single destination in line with the plan to build ASEAN connectivity in order to promote both ASEAN for ASEAN, and ASEAN for all,” he concluded.