Thapanee Kiatphaibool, who takes over as governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), is confident of hitting the country’s 2023 tourism targets within the next two months – she explains why and what’s planned for 2024
Thailand welcomed 11.4 million foreign arrivals in the first half of 2023 making Thailand the most popular tourism destination in South-east Asia this year. This must be cause for celebration in the TAT team. What led to this strong recovery even in the absence of the massive Chinese market?
Thailand’s tourism has been seeing a strong recovery since the pandemic subsided and travel resumed. This year, the figure proves to be even more promising. From January 1 to September 3, Thailand welcomed 17,808,866 international visitors, who generated over 735 billion baht (US$20.2 billion) for the country.
The top five international visitors were from Malaysia, China, South Korea, India, and Russia, in descending order.
This positive turnout comes from various factors, such as the return of potential markets like Russia, the Middle East, East Asia, and South-east Asia, and the rise in cross-border travel. Other factors include the increased number of flights and seating capacity to Thailand, as well as the recovery of the domestic market.
Would this powerful recovery serve as a good reminder to Thai tourism players to diversify their source markets, or would marketing focus return to China now that Chinese group outbound travel is allowed once more?
We have to acknowledge that before the pandemic, Chinese travellers amounted for one-fourth of the total number of arrivals, with over 11 million Chinese travellers generating over 500 billion baht in tourism revenue.
However, the pandemic has taught us not to rely on a single source market. Thus, we are diversifying our target markets by also focusing on other main markets, like South-east Asia, India and Europe, while tapping into emerging markets like the Middle East, which visits for medical tourism, and Saudi Arabia, which is new for Thailand.
We are also focusing on segments that have a higher spending power and longer length of stay, as well as niches like health and wellness, sports, luxury, and responsible tourism.
We have another two more months to go before the year comes to an end. Will Thailand achieve its arrivals target?
We have already crossed the 17-million mark in early September. TAT is forecasting continuous growth, especially with rising demand from the Chinese and Middle Eastern markets. With the high season approaching, we are hopeful that we will meet our target of 25 to 30 million international arrivals.
TAT has been active in engaging the young travel demographic through fun activations like the Write Your Own Amazing New Chapters event involving trendsetting influencers, the use of the online battle game Home Sweet Home to inspire interest in Thailand, and Amazing Thailand NFTs. Why the focus on the young travel demographic? How valuable is this demographic for Thailand?
After the pandemic, the younger generation, especially the millennials, was one of the first groups to travel aboard. According to our survey, these are usually FIT travellers and many are first-timers with the potential of becoming repeat visitors to Thailand.
In addition, the younger generation records a higher spending per trip of around 48,000 to 50,000 baht – higher than average tourists.
They seek personal travel experiences that are refreshing and uniquely their own. They are also open to trying new experiences and being immersed in local culture. They are considered to be tech-savvy and tend to share their experiences on social media with their family and friends.
Part of the Visit Thailand Year 2023 campaign is the emphasis on sustainable and responsible tourism with efforts involving local communities as much as possible. What achievements has TAT made in this aspect?
For many years, we have been conducting our campaigns and events under the 7 Greens concept. This has been initiated with the determination and eagerness of TAT as the main agency overseeing the tourism industry to take responsibility and to persuade all parties to join hands in creating a new environmentally-friendly tourism chapter in the future.
The 7 Greens concept comprises Green Heart, Green Activity, Green Community, Green Logistics, Green Attraction, Green Service, and Green Plus.
In line with the Royal Thai Government, TAT emphasises on the distribution of tourism income to the local people and the extension of tourism benefits to more communities. Thus, the BCG model (Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model, an economic model for inclusive and sustainable growth) will be implemented in various tourism segments.
We will focus on developing Gastronomy first, followed by Integrated Digital Tourism and Responsible Tourism to drive sustainability through organic tourism. For the latter, we have collaborated with the Thai Organic Consumer Association to create a farmer’s network and connect farmers with consumers, thus reducing carbon footprint and expanding the benefits of a circular economy. We have piloted this project in several destinations in Thailand now.
In Phuket, for example, we work with restaurants and hotels that use local ingredients and support local farmers. Such responsible establishments include Torry’s Ice Cream, Grand Mercure Phuket Patong, and Trisara.
To rebuild the tourism industry, shaping supply is just as important as driving demand. TAT knows that sustainability plays a crucial role in tourism performance, and is positioning Thailand as a high-value and sustainable destination that offers meaningful experiences to tourists.
We have started developing the Sustainable Tourism Goals (STGs) concept from the 17 goals of the United Nations Development Programme’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). TAT will actively implement the STGs in line with the SDGs. This is a national drive that encompasses the entire Thai tourism industry.
A Sustainable Tourism Acceleration Rating (STAR) system will also certify tourist businesses in the area of tourism sustainability. Businesses that are able to comply with several goals will attain a corresponding number of stars.
Finally, what is next after the Visit Thailand Year 2023 campaign?
The Visit Thailand Year 2023: Amazing New Chapters focuses on offering meaningful experiences for travellers to engage with local people, culture, and nature. This dynamic concept is in the right direction for protecting our country’s vast natural and scenic beauty, and instigating a range of environmental initiatives.
Next year, the focus is on Meaningful Relationship. We want international travellers to engage in meaningful local connections. When travellers form a relationship with the people and the place they visit, they will stay longer, spend more, and return again and again. We want to invite tourists to have a good experience – taste, create, play, absorb, and relax – while forming a meaningful relationship with Thailand. We hope they will discover lifelong friends, form cherished memories, and enjoy their time.
There are many ways to present meaningful experience-based tourism.
In terms of taste, travellers can sample authentic local flavours and celebrate the journey of each ingredient, from farm to feast.
In terms of create, they can take home a beautiful handmade craft and leave local creators filled with pride as well as profit.
In terms of play, they can experience an adrenaline rush through an adventure activity and contribute to conservation at the same time.
In terms of absorb, they can soak up Thailand’s beautiful nature and rich culture, and leave only their footprint behind.
To relax, they can disconnect from the busy world and rediscover themselves, the community and planet Earth.