A distinguished contingent from the Thai tourism industry is attending the WTM 2015, headed by the Minister of Tourism and Sports herself, Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, thus acknowledging the importance of the WTM as one of the most significant travel trade events worldwide.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has been attending the fair since 1980, therefore marking this as the 35th year of participation. This year’s trade show will have Her Royal Highness Princess Ubolratana presiding over the ‘Thailand Green Excellence Awards’ ceremony for travel agents and media in the UK. The Thai Pavilion has 51 exhibitors across the tourism industry.
At a networking luncheon hosted by TAT, the Minister instantly won everybody over when she said tourism was not about figures, but friendships. She further stated that 2016 would be the first of the next five-year plan for social and economic development in Thailand. Tourism is seen as a major contributor of foreign exchange earnings; “We are now focussing on enhancing visitor expenditure rather than growing visitor numbers,” she stated, emphasising that the government has seen the need to provide value-added products and services, thus motivating visitors to stay longer.
Thailand is also keen to stake its claim on the cruise segment market and the Royal Thai Government has plans to upgrade a port in Phuket for cruise ships, as also build new cruise ports in Krabi, Koh Samui and Surat Thani, beginning next year. A ‘Super Yacht Show’ is planned for Phuket in February 2016; foreign investors will be invited to build more Super Yacht marinas in the country. Thailand already plays host to some of Asia’s top regattas. The ‘Top of the Gulf Regatta’ is organised annually by the Ocean Marina Yacht Club in Pattaya, while the ‘Samui Regatta’ is held annually by the Samui Yacht Club and Phuket hosts the ‘King’s Cup Regatta’ in the first week of December every year.
Catering to the growing visitor influx expected in the coming years, the Airports of Thailand Public Company Ltd is expanding all its major airports. Suvarnabhumi airport is almost doubling its annual handling capacity to 80 million passengers per year by 2020, while Don Mueang is adding a second passenger terminal. Additionally, Phuket international airport is being expanded to double its annual capacity and receive 12.5-million passengers by 2016. Under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s “one airport, two missions” directive, the navy-operated U-tapao-Rayong-Pattaya international airport is being developed for commercial purposes, the first phase of which will be completed by June 2016.
As the Minister holds the portfolios for both Tourism as well as Sports, she recognised the growing market of travellers who visit Thailand for sports activities and said the country is prepared for it. Some of the significant forthcoming events include the Honda LPGA Thailand 2015, Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon 2015, Phuket Triathlon, and Pattaya Jetski, while the Nadal vs Djokovic ‘Back to Thailand’ tennis duel just concluded in Bangkok last month. The Thai martial art of boxing, Muay Thai, is becoming one of the world’s most favourite sports and, in spite of Muay Thai boxing schools in about 130-countries currently, the Minister stressed that the real experience was best enjoyed in Thailand itself.
As a sports training centre, Thailand is second to none. The sport centre hotel, Thanyapura Sports Hotel in Phuket, is recognised internationally and has been selected as the official FINA (International Swimming Federation -Fédération internationale de natation) Training Centre in Southeast Asia for the 2016 Rio Olympic. Furthermore, biking is becoming an increasingly popular means of transport as well as recreation. Bangkok held the ‘Bike for Mom’ event in August to mark the 83rd birthday of Her Majesty the Queen and will follow that up with a ‘Bike for Dad’ event on the 11th December to honour His Majesty the King’s 88th birthday.
Thailand has of course long been acknowledged as one of the world’s leading golfing destinations, with over 250 world-class gold courses in the country.
The Minister also reminded all delegates about the advent and advantages of the ASEAN. “Thailand is the only country to share land borders with four ASEAN countries – Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. That makes us a logical gateway to some of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world,” she emphasised.
One of the most important developments in the ASEAN region will be the Asian Highway, a massive network of roads that will make it possible to access all these countries, just like in Europe and TAT has been working with the neighbouring countries on joint promotional efforts. This year, we are introducing the “Two Countries One Destination” package to global travellers; we have just launched Chiang Mai-Mandalay-Bagan-Naypyitaw and will introduce Trat-Chanthaburi, Sihanu Ville and Siem Reap or Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam,” said Mrs Wattanavrangkul.
In a bold and unprecedented move, the Minister chose to introduce the topic of the recent bomb blast at the Erawan shrine in Bangkok, in August. “The entire Thai tourism industry came together to work with the Royal Thai Government in restoring order and normalcy to life in Bangkok and across the country. We also welcomed representatives of the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation and the World Travel and Tourism Council, who flew to Thailand especially for a press conference organised to send a message of assurance and confidence to the world that Thailand remains a welcoming tourist destination. The Royal Thai Government has called for unity with the slogan “Our Home. Our Country. Stronger Together.” I can assure you that Bangkok is back to business. And Thailand will achieve 28.8 million international tourist arrival target by the end of this year,” she concluded confidently.