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6 Apr, 2009

Thailand Roadshow Targets Secondary Indian Cities

The Tourism Authority of Thailand last month held its first marketing roadshow in two of India’s key secondary cities, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, as part of a strategy to diversify the sources of its visitor arrivals beyond the main Indian gateways.

A total of about 230 travel agents turned up in the two cities for what many said was their first direct sales briefing on Thai tourism products. Another 170 agents turned up in Delhi, the third stop on the TAT roadshow.

Visitor arrivals from India to Thailand (by nationality) totalled 538,157 in 2008, a small increase of 0.34% over 2007. The arrivals were affected significantly by a sharp downturn in the first-half of December 2009 in the aftermath of the airport closure crisis but have now returned to normal levels.

Thanks to regular and direct flights by Thai Airways and other airlines, Thailand is enjoying a regular flow of visitors from mainstream cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata as well as the two I.T. cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad.

According to Mr Prakit Piriyakiet, Director of the TAT’s ASEAN division, the first phase of Indian travel, which consisted mainly of the traditional Bangkok-Pattaya combination, is now set to graduate up to a new level, with the addition of krabi, Phuket, Hua Hin and other South Thailand beach resorts..

Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state, is home to the large Gujarati business community, which has extensive interests in industry, manufacturing, and gems and jewellery. In turn, Chandigarh is the capital of both Haryana and Punjab states. It has a very high percentage of government offices and a large university.

A total of 20 Thai sellers joined the roadshow, ranging from attractions like Siam Niramit and Phuket Fantasea to independent hotel properties like A-One, tour operators like Oriental Travels, an online website (Shaadionline) specializing in the weddings market, and many more.

India is a quantity-cum-quality source market for Thailand, with huge future potential. This is now the Indian summer school holiday season coming up from 15 May in June in Delhi, but from April to June in places like Mumbai. From a timing perspective, the roadshow was perfect.

The TAT is targetting the 300 million-strong emerging middle class, especially the millions of young people.

Due to its large domestic demand, the Indian economy has averted the major brunt of the global financial crisis. According to one agent, a major saving grace for the Indian economy has been its parallel economy, the so-called cash-only “black market”.

Said this agent, “Anyone who invested one million rupees in the stock market has now got Rs 300,000 left. But anyone who has one million rupees in cash, still has one million rupees in cash.”

Another Indian agent noted Bangkok is only four hours flying time from most Indian cities. Thai Airways has double daily flights to Delhi and Mumbai, daily to Chennai and Kolkata, nine a week to Bangalore, and four a week to Hyderabad — a total of 23,000 seats a week, excluding the four flights a week to the Buddhist circuit cities of Gaya and Varanasi, which operate only during the winter season.

The privately-owned Indian airline Kingfisher is expected to start flying to Thailand this summer. As of March 29, Cathay Pacific has started flying daily from Delhi to Bangkok.

Indian visitors get visa on arrival at all international gateways in Thailand. The Thai government’s recent move to waive the visa fee until June 4 has been marketed as an additional incentive to visit Thailand. However Indian travel agents said that although it would help, it would not be a significant influence in the decision making process.

Compared to many other destinations in Asia, Thailand offers great value for money. The Indian rupee is slightly weaker than the baht but Thailand is certainly affordable by the vast majority of first time Indian travellers.

Thailand also has a great “snob appeal” amongst the status-conscious Indians.

According to one agent, if one Indian family visits Thailand, the neighbours and relatives want to go, too. If one child boasts in school that he has just holidayed in Thailand, his/her friends nag their parents to follow suit. Same applies with women in the various social functions.

Due to its geographical location, Thailand is perfectly suited for being packaged with neighbouring destinations like Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and even Macau. Airlines generally provide what are known as group fares to the travel agents around which they build their tour packages.

Thailand is also perfect for stopover, city-break tours of two to three days. This is particularly useful for students and their families seeking to break journey while travelling to and from onward destinations like Australia and New Zealand.

One promising new market is for Indian weddings. According to one agent, many Indian families are taking their wedding functions and ceremonies abroad in order to avoid catching the taxman’s eye with an ostentatious show of wealth in India itself. Thailand offers a perfect place as it is both exotic, close-by and affordable.

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