‘Amazing New Chapters, Now Even More Amazing’
As the land of smiles launches Visit Thailand Year 2022 with a brand new campaign Amazing New Chapters, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) India Offices in charge of South Asian markets look forward to a more customised approach in terms of audience engagement and promotional strategies with the travel trade as well as consumers, says Vachirachai Sirisumpan, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand, New Delhi
The Asian Footprints EXCLUSIVE
by June Mukherjee
New Delhi & Kolkata
Now that Thailand has announced its phase-wise reopening for the vaccinated foreign tourists, can you elaborate on how travelling to Thailand will be different?
Looking back, we have had a tough time for the last two years. Tourism is very important for Thailand in all segments – inbound, outbound, and domestic. South Asia is one of the highest growth markets for us as India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives send us a huge number of tourists and there are a lot of potentials yet to explore. We are trying our best to balance the health and safety of everyone - our visitors as well as the Thai people living in the country. We gradually opened the country with the Phuket Sandbox programme from July 1st, and then slowly other destinations like Samui, Krabi and Phang-nga followed the suit.
The latest is one of the most significant phases of reopening as Thailand opened for all vaccinated tourists without quarantine from November 1st. We are calling this process TEST & GO, and then we also have the concept of living in the Blue Zone covering about 17 sandbox destinations. The partially and unvaccinated visitors will have to go for the alternative quarantine process which is already in place. A lot will depend on which country (high, medium or low risk) you are coming from as far as visa-on-arrival and other health protocols are concerned and that is how travelling to Thailand is going to change in the coming days. We have also introduced a concept of Thailand Pass with which you will have to pre-register to enter the country. Situations are changing very fast but they are changing for the better overcoming the uncertainties and towards stabilising the global situation only. As a travel industry professional, I hope more people get vaccinated and start travelling safely and enjoy more destinations around the world and visit Thailand.
At this juncture, Thailand has announced Visit Thailand Year 2022. What is in store for the visitors to experience differently?
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has launched the Visit Thailand Year 2022 during the World Travel Market 2021 in London. This campaign is part of our focussed promotion of sustainable and responsible tourism highlighting the environment and cultural richness. We will be promoting Amazing New Chapters of Thailand. The first chapter will be to highlight the tourism products and services that awaken your senses. We will talk about the five senses. When they come to Thailand, what do they see, hear, smell, touch and finally taste? In chapter two, we will focus on the ones you love, which means families, couples, friends etc. We would want you to visit and create wonderful memories together. And then in chapter three, the title is the earth we care. In this one, we will focus more to increase awareness of eco-tourism among the travellers. Along with the famous Thai hospitality, you will see all these new facets of Thailand in the coming days. Armed with modern technology that is powering various innovative hybrid marketing strategies, we plan to invent various new ways of promoting the Amazing New Chapters brand under the new normal in the coming days.
What are the plans to resume flight connectivity in the reopening phases?
Things are moving in a better direction and I have witnessed many countries in South Asia where the situations are well-controlled and well-managed. In fact, every country, government and private sector are trying to improve the flight connectivity situation and related travel protocols. It is also true that people are also very cautious especially when it comes to international travel. And the situation in Thailand is fast improving which also helps us in opening our doors to the world. For example, with India, we are still managing with the repatriation flights, but we are working very closely on an air bubble agreement that will help the tourism sector in a great way beginning with commercial charter flights to Phuket. Similarly, we are working on flights from Nepal and Bangladesh to Bangkok which will start very soon. I hope by the beginning of 2022, we will see much more flights connecting Thailand and the South Asian countries.
How are you updating the international travel trade on the health and safety protocols followed by the various Thai service providers?
In terms of communicating, there are two parts. Since the beginning of the last year, we are informing the travel trade and the travellers of the various safety measures followed by the Thai tourism sectors. Our SHA certification not only applies to only hotels and resorts, but it also applies to transport, spa, boutique, shopping malls, golf courses, wedding venues, entertainments venues, all eateries and public places that involve tourism experience from the arrival until the departure. The second part would be to constantly update the travel trade which we are doing via all direct and indirect communications, using the regular and special campaigns and now by physically meeting them as well. We did a successful Thailand Reopening webinar on October 21 and received excellent feedback from the Indian market. We are reaching out to our other South Asian partners via emails, phone calls, newsletters, special mobile applications and social media platforms and keeping them updated about the latest situation in Thailand for travelling.
What are the priority segments of the international tourists in the Thailand reopening phases?
We are looking at certain segments and they vary from country to country as well. If I talk about India, we are looking at the potential first-movers which majorly cover the millennials and youngsters especially from the metros willing to travel. And of course, we have the wedding groups as we are getting a lot of enquiries already coming in and we are talking to many leading wedding planners to take this forward. With the introduction of charter flights to Phuket, a few weddings are expected to take place in December and many more from January till March. But frankly, we are being very cautious for the greater interest. As far as Bangladesh, Nepal or Bhutan is concerned, we are looking at medical tourists and incentive groups and we also look forward to promoting millennial travel as well. Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Middle Eastern countries are also major source markets of medical tourists for us as well. There is also a good potential market for golf in Bangladesh along with India. Other than Phuket, many couples are waiting for the flight connectivity to begin, looking for destinations like Khao Lak, Hua Hin, Krabi or Pattaya for a relaxing holiday. Assisted by our good partners, we are running excellent engagement campaigns involving the top travel bloggers and influencers who are helping us in keeping Thailand on top of travellers’ minds. This actually is a very big plus to attract the first movers and millennials as they form a large audience of our media friends and social media ambassadors.
How do you plan to stay on top of the chart on wellness tourism as it is now going to be the hottest trend?
Yes, wellness is going to be a leading global trend that is about body and mind. Luckily Thailand has always been a leading name in that path. In the new facets of Thailand, new wellness products and services will win the hearts of our visitors. We have a good foundation in this segment from all aspects including facilities, performance, satisfaction and value-for-money. International travellers have always given top ranking to Thai wellness. If you go to any destination of Thailand, you can find any kind of wellness service you are looking for to rejuvenate yourself.
Can you elaborate on the facilities and advantages of filming in Thailand for the international shooting units?
We have a single-point window office called Thailand Film Office (thailandfilmoffice.go.th). Any international filming team willing to shoot music videos, web series, television serials or movies can connect with them directly for complete guidance and assistance or can request us to initiate a connection and we can patch them through. Thailand has beautiful shooting locations from beaches to mountains to forests to colourful city scenes, skilled English-speaking film technicians and the latest filming equipment easily available in the market. The production process is also quite hassle-free for the international crew.
What is your next level digital and social media networking and marketing strategy to stay connected with your wider audience?
During the pandemic, our main objective was to keep Thailand at the top of the mind for travel trade as well as consumers. The use of social media in its various forms were tried and tested to reach the maximum number of potential audience at large. Now we are not looking at the audience as a mass. We want to specifically identify them with their interest areas and match their interest with our offerings through customisation. All webinars, social media promotions and engagements are going to be segment-wise. In every deep pocket of our tourist markets, we are trying to understand the behaviour pattern of our audience, both trade and consumer, and act accordingly. But broadly, I believe, for the South Asian market, the face-to-face connection is still very important and impacts the most. Hence we will adapt more hybrid formats to reach a wider audience. We plan to go step by step by doing more physical meetings in metro cities in all these countries and then expand to other important cities in the next phases.
As you promote Thailand in a more experiential way, food becomes more important. While Thai cuisine is world-famous, can you also throw some light on the availability of alternate cuisine in general?
In Thailand, you will find special diet-related outlets almost in all major tourist destinations. Most importantly, the famous Thai hospitality comes in here, as even in small or medium hotels and resorts in small towns also, if requested, chefs do serve customised meals for any kind of dietary requirements to feed the guests. There are many Thai Muslims living in our country as well, and hence Halal food is of a very high standard in Thailand and visiting tourists can safely try the Thai Halal food as well. And travel agents and tour operators sending guests also keep their own resources handy with them with names of authentic eateries serving vegetarian, vegan or Jain meals. Whenever requested, we always come up with our recommendations as well.
Known for its famous shopping markets from local to branded, Thailand is a shopping paradise of all brands. How about highlighting Thai products to buy as gifts from the country?
It is a known fact that when you are visiting not only Bangkok but also other big cities like Pattaya, Phuket, Krabi, Chiang Mai, you can visit all kinds of markets depending on your choice and budget. From local markets that sell the best of the souvenirs to the sprawling shopping malls showcasing all international and Thai brands on display will keep you busy all day. I would suggest considering the excellent Thai handicrafts, beautifully designed and packaged Thai wellness items such as aromatherapy, spa and organic beauty products as well as high-quality fabrics like Thai silk etc. to add to your shopping cart since all of these can be gifted to men and women alike.
Suggest one Thai dish representing the country’s culinary signature that every traveller, especially the first time visitors must try before leaving the land of smiles.
For anyone and everyone, I would like to recommend Tom Yum Soup that represents the taste and aroma of Thailand. The simple soup is quickly made and can have many variations depending on your palate. The unique smell of its herbs stands alone and is very good for health. If you are a vegetarian, you can just put all the vegetables you want and have it your way. If you are a non-vegetarian, Halal and sea-food lover, then you can add prawns and crabs; otherwise, you can mix chicken or any other meat of your choice.
2022 will mark 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and Thailand and 50 years of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Thailand. Since tourism has played a key role in binding Thailand with these two nations, share if you have any broad plan to celebrate the same.
The 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and Thailand and 50 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Bangladesh are two very important milestones. It is a very good opportunity to celebrate the long friendship of Thailand with these two countries. Our Ambassadors in both countries are very keen to recognise this great friendship through various activities in the coming year. Tourism has played a major role in bonding Thailand with India and Bangladesh. The people to people connection and understanding of each other developed and strengthened over the years through the routes of tourism.
Our Ambassador in India has presented a theme of ‘New Indian New Thai’ presenting the new perspective of Thailand to the Indians. At the same time, we are promoting Indians from different angles to the Thais to understand better, and this theme goes beyond tourism and covers trade, technology, education, business, culture, heritage etc. We are in constant touch with our Ambassador in Bangladesh and will participate in all the activities there. In Bangladesh, we want to position Thailand as a warm Muslim-friendly destination and we are aware of the cultural richness of the country.
We are also aware of the common cultural heritage that binds India and Bangladesh. During this milestone year, we would like to honour the same connecting our Thailand link to it, for example, retracing the nine-day visit of Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate who penned the national anthems of both India and Bangladesh, to Siam in 1927 when he visited Thailand and met His Majesty King Prajadhipok, Rama VII.