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Although 2014 was a tough year for Thailand tourism — made difficult by political unrest in Bangkok that later lead to a headline-grabbing military coup — the Land of Smiles still managed to welcome more than 24.8 million travelers. However, tourism officials are confident they will do better in 2015 — thanks in part to the destination’s new Discover Thainess campaign launched this January.
“This year, the numbers are getting back to normal,” said Jamnong Junnapiya, executive director for the Americas region at Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), during the country’s annual Thailand Travel Mart Plus. “We’re trying to get [U.S. visitor arrivals figures] higher. For the U.S., the first three months of this year were up 5.4 percent, and that’s almost back to normal.”
Normal, in this case, is the record-breaking 789,000 U.S. visitors Thailand welcomed in 2013, prior to the protests in Bangkok and resulting period of military martial law in the late spring and early summer of 2014.
TAT officials hope the new Discover Thainess campaign — a promotion highlighting the Thai way of life through cultural and hands-on activities, such as Muay Thai boxing, local cuisine, Thai massage and classical dance — will appeal both to first-time travelers and repeat visitors. The promotion was a prominent theme at this year’s Thailand Tourism Mart Plus, which drew more than 700 buyers, sellers and members of the international media to Bangkok.
Still, Junnapiya said the U.S. marketing budget is relatively small, in part because Thailand must spread its advertising dollars across 27 different countries. Furthermore, TAT plans to only spend around $1 million in the U.S. this year, which is similar to their 2014 advertising allotment for the region.
Noting that U.S. television advertising is typically too expensive for TAT’s limited marketing budget, Junnapiya said the organization is working, however, to support television and filmmakers interested in shooting in Thailand.
“Last year, we had ‘The Bachelor’ here in Thailand, which was very successful,” said Kulpramote Wannalert, the director of TAT’s Los Angeles office. “They showed Bangkok, Chiang Rai and went south to Phuket, so they showed many destinations that are good for honeymooners.”
TAT is also hoping U.S. travel advisors will help boost American arrivals figures. The organization launched a substantially overhauled travel agent training website late last year, replacing a previous version that officials said had become outdated. Travel professionals will find new content, including an entire module dedicated to the Discover Thainess campaign, along with a brand new series of monthly webinars. They can also become weddings and honeymoon experts for the destination through TAT’s “Thai The Knot” specialist program.
“Right now, we have about 2,000 U.S. agents in that program,” Junnapiya said of the Thai the Knot certification, noting that the program was launched about two years ago.
Junnapiya added that agents who have participated in recent fam tours are an important part of TAT’s strategy for overcoming any anxieties potential visitors might have.
“They’ve seen for themselves,” Junnapiya said. “Traveling in Thailand is safe.”
Thai the Knotwww.thaitheknotspecialist.com
Tourism Authority of Thailandwww.thailandfortravelagents.com