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25 Jul, 2005

TAT Faces Post-Tsunami Marketing Challenge

The Thai tourism industry is now dealing with an unprecedented marketing challenge – how to change the ‘mood’ of prospective visitors in order to overcome both the lingering effects of the force majeure tsunami as well as the ongoing negative publicity caused by man-made terrorism.

The annual marketing meeting of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which ended last week, showed that the images of death and destruction caused by the tsunami and the fear of ghosts and spirits are still affecting visitors from the key mass-volume markets like China, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong.

Officials said Thailand now faces the unique challenge of producing the most effective marketing in places where it is getting the least negative publicity, especially with billions of baht in marketing money now set to be thrown at the problem.

The TAT is estimating that Thailand has lost about two million visitors as a result of the two T’s. With that kind of loss and the continuing uncertainty of the global situation, it is virtually sure that the 2005 visitor arrivals target of 13 million will not be met.

Phuket, once the star of Thai tourism, is still in the throes of a debilitating slump as airlines pull out.

However, Thai Airways International is now set to start direct flights to Moscow and Johannesburg this coming winter, much stock is being laid in developing the opportunities presented by these small but promising long-haul markets, as well as Latin America.

Although South Africa is said to be enjoying an economic boom, the tsunami has affected arrivals in the first half of 2005. Local tour operators do not expect the market to perform anywhere near the 2004 results and believe full recovery will take a year, according to the TAT marketing consultant in Johannesburg.

Accessibility has been a major issue since the termination of the only direct flight between Bangkok and Johannesburg by South African Airways two years ago. Passengers have been accessing Thailand via Singapore, Malaysia, Kenya and Dubai. This has affected the incentive market.

Visitors from South Africa were up 17.86 % to 40,745 last year. One interesting feature of this market is that it is one of the few where female visitors (21,287) outnumber males (19,445).

Thailand also enjoys high repeat business from South Africa and “needs to keep these people interested,” says the TAT marketing consultant.

The new markets of Russia, CIS and Baltic States are growing strongly, but Thailand faces strong competition from destinations like Indonesia, India, Maldives, Tunisia, Dominican Republic, and Vietnam. There is also a continuing difficulty of getting Russian-speaking guides.

The TAT marketing office also reports a distinct shift in preference with Russian and CIS visitors moving upmarket from 3-star hotels to 4- and 5-star

D uring high season more than 3,000 companies and agencies sell Thailand in Russia, other countries of the C.I.S. and Baltic states, the TAT marketing consultant in Moscow says.

Increased interest is also being reported from the Latin and Central American countries like Argentina, Brazil and Mexico as they get their economies back into shape.

Says the TAT marketing consultant in Latin America, “Many Latin American economies are recovering (economically). Outbound Latin American travel spending is booming again. The rebound in regional currencies has made foreign travel more affordable to the professional classes.

In addition, travellers are adapting to the increased restrictions imposed by US immigration authorities by finding other destinations.

However, there are a number of impediments to be overcome related to accessibility and facilitation.

“Since Varig, the Brazilian airline, stopped flights to Southeast Asia some years ago, many tourists find it difficult to travel the long distance to Thailand,” the TAT marketing consultant says.

“U.S. immigration regulations have decreased travel to Asia via North America and thus Brazilian travellers must find alternative routes to Thailand via Europe.”

Mexico has also been affected by the removal of the visa-free privilege which means Mexican travellers to Thailand must now apply for a visa at the Thai Embassy in Mexico City.

Nevertheless, says the TAT marketing report, “Latinos are starting to enjoy Thai food. They love the flavours and spicy Thai cuisine which can be easily tied in to travelling to Thailand.”

Although the US is the most popular long distance destination, “with more regulations and visa requirements of Brazilian travellers going to the US., there has been a decline to the US market.

“In Brazil, a country of 180 million citizens, including 14 million with passports, the US has approximately 30 visa officers working in 3 consulates and one embassy. These officers must interview every single new visa applicant in person, regardless of where they reside in Brazil, often hundreds of miles from the nearest consulate.

“When that factor is combined with the increasingly negative attitudes towards the US among Latin Americans, it’s easy to understand why regional travel veterans predict a growing distaste for non-VFR leisure travel to the US,” the report says.

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