Thailand a harder sell for repeat travellers, but local experiences offer bright spots

Companies find Thailand a harder sell, as DIY travel gains favour among Europeans

Long a top Asian destination for Europe’s travellers, Thailand today is not the easy sell it once was for tour operators and travel agents, who are finding that they have to dig deep to have a shot at attracting repeat clients with the “been there, done that” mindset.

“European numbers are stable for Thailand, however there’s not much growth opportunities from the region’s market,” admitted Tobias Fischer, director of business development, Go Vacation Thailand.

European agents are increasingly finding Thailand (Krabi pictured) a harder sell, as DIY travel gains favour

It appears that the destination may have lost its lustre after many years in the spotlight, some buyers at ITB Berlin shared.

Tina Bach Thogersen, destination manager, Denmark’s Viktors Farmor World-wide Expeditions, said: “We sell (pretty much) all of Indochina. We offer one itinerary for Thailand, but it doesn’t sell.

“Many Danes have been to Thailand. Today, many of us do it individually because we want to visit the beaches and the small islands. It’s hard to gather groups of 20 people wanting to do the same beach holiday,” she explained.

Moreover, with Thailand being a mature destination, she said it is “very easy to travel within Thailand on your own”.

In an attempt to keep things fresh for repeaters while staying abreast to trends, DMCs like Go Vacation has been adding new components to itineraries, including local experiences and lesser-known destinations.

“As DMCs, we make money from round-trips. We still keep classic tours but develop new tours such as klong (canal) tours followed by lunch with a local family. For seat-in-coach tours, we always have to keep classic sites like Ayutthaya but try to add diversity into them,” said Fischer.

Similarly, Laurent Kuenzle, CEO, Asian Trails, remarked: “Experiences is the buzzword, customers want to see main sites and new things.”

Foodie tours are a hit, he shared, adding that it’s about marketing the right product to the customer. “A dinner would be done differently for a German and a Spanish customer, for example.”

But similar attempts have come to naught for Thogersen. “That is the kind of itinerary we do. We do all we can to get as close to the locals as possible. But still, no – they choose Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam instead.”

In her experience selling travel to Danes, “the last time group tours to Thailand were selling was around a decade ago”. A previous company she was with stopped selling Thailand in 2010. Following that, it was a cycle of reintroducing Thailand before it would drop off again.

On the other hand, product manager for South-east Asia at Swiss agency Adgentes, Julien Rousseau, said Thailand has not lost its mojo in Switzerland, and continues to sell itself.

Thailand is a “big destination” at the agency, making up around 20 per cent of business. The country is followed in popularity by Vietnam and Indonesia.

“I was expecting many would book Thailand online. But (perhaps) they encountered problems before, and returned to agencies as they feel safer booking with us,” he told TTG Asia.

He added: “For destinations like Cambodia and Vietnam, our clients tend to visit just once. But they choose Thailand often for the beaches.”

Repeat travellers are choosing Thailand’s less touristy beaches like Koh Kood and Koh Chang, according to Rousseau. – additional reporting by Xinyi Liang-Pholsena

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