With one of the world’s strongest tourist industries, Thailand is now working to build on its international reputation, developing high-earning segments and broadening its market reach.
The country is aiming to generate a record Bt2trn ($63.9bn) in revenue from foreign and domestic tourists in 2014, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) announced in July. The government has set a target of attracting more than 28m foreign visitors next year, up 7% on the projection for 2013.
TAT governor Suraphon Svetasreni has launched a new marketing strategy for the country, focused on driving the tourism sector up the value chain and boosting revenues as much as attracting greater volumes of visitors. There will be a renewed emphasis on Thai culture and selling the country as a quality destination. The core theme of the 2014 strategy has been dubbed “Higher Revenue through Thainess”.
Priorities include greater diversification of source markets; broadening the range of destinations within the country to promote regional development and reduce congestion at popular sites; better regional connectivity; bringing in more visitors during the low season; and a focus on niches such as ecotourism and environmentally-friendly development to mitigate the impact of higher numbers of arrivals.
TAT is aiming to increase the proportion of visitors in the $20,000-to-$60,000 income range from 30% to 40% in 2014. To this end, it is developing more luxury tourism products and working to bring in more middle-to-high income visitors from growing markets such as Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Gulf, as well as building on core markets in Western Europe.
Suraphon said that Thailand’s strategy would aim to continue to capitalise on the country’s strengths, while addressing potential weaknesses.
He added that the fastest-growing tourism markets for Thailand in 2014 would probably be China, Russia and India – all emerging economies with substantial populations that are increasingly keen to travel abroad for leisure. TAT officials noted that most visitors from these countries tend to be in the low-to-medium-income tourism segments, and that to boost arrival numbers and earnings, Thailand needs to start attracting more well-off tourists from top emerging markets.
To boost the Chinese market, TAT will open its fifth office in China in Guangzhou (Canton) by the end of the year, to cover South China. The first four offices are in Beijing, Kunming, Shanghai and Chengdu. TAT expects the number of Chinese tourist arrivals to Thailand to reach 5.4m in 2014, compared to the projected 4m for 2013.
China is now the world’s largest outbound tourism market, and Chinese citizens take more than 83m overseas trips a year, with spending outside the country hitting $102bn last year, according to the Beijing-based China Tourism Academy.
The number of Chinese visitors to Thailand soared by a remarkable 93% to 1.12m in the first quarter of 2013, with the country becoming the most popular destination for Chinese during the May Day holiday, surpassing Hong Kong for the first time.
The rise can partly be attributed to a rather unusual factor: the success of a low-budget Chinese film, Lost in Thailand, which has raised the country’s profile in China, according to the international press. Chinese budget carrier Spring Airlines, for example, increased its flight frequency to Thailand from 10 to 17 per week to serve the extra May Day demand. The film’s location, Chiang Mai, has seen a sharp increase in the number of visitors.
Thailand’s relatively low prices also appeal to Chinese visitors, as they do to Russians, Indians and indeed tourists from around the world.
TAT authority expects 1.9m Russian visitors next year and is aiming to attract more Russians in the honeymoon, wedding and medical travel segments, with the island of Koh Samui being developed as a wedding and honeymoon destination.
Thailand is in the fortunate position of already having a large and flourishing tourism industry and a strong profile in many important markets. From this position, its 2014 strategy seems well-crafted in terms of greater diversification, and the development of value-added. But achieving these ambitious targets involves not just clever marketing, but real investments in tourism infrastructure, from hotels to airports, to ensure that the country’s projected image as a quality destination is matched by reality.