19 Oct, 2015
Bangkok – Nearly 600 travel bloggers from all over the world convened in Thailand for the first Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) in Asia between 15-17 October. Amidst the dozens of presentations on harnessing whiz-bang hi-tech tools to make a living out of their passion for writing, it was the high-touch exhibit of traditional Thai arts and crafts that proved to be a hit.
Keen to ensure that its current “Discover Thainess” marketing theme gets maximum exposure, the Tourism Authority of Thailand arranged for seven Thai master artisans and craftsmen to display their wares under the umbrella of SUPPORT Arts and Crafts International Centre of Thailand (SACICT). Strategically positioned right outside the TBEX venue at the Queen Sirikit conference centre, the pavilion attracted a queue of fascinated bloggers, many of whom were visiting Thailand for the first time, to either watch the craftspeople at work, try doing it themselves and/or just buy some of the products.
In her opening speech, Ms. Amparwan Pichalai, CEO of SACICT, said Thai arts & crafts represent the unique identity of the Thai people and allow both local and international tourists to better appreciate the value of Thai culture and heritage. She said the craftspersons chosen to display their wares were all new-generation members of families practising the same craft. The elaborate exhibit included panels providing details of each craft along with the background and contact details of the designers/owners. In order to give these unique craftsmen/women even more exposure, Travel Impact Newswire has listed their full details at the bottom of this dispatch.
Although supporting small & medium sized enterprises and independent entrepreneurs has long been the over-arching objective of the Thai tourism industry, it has gained a renewed sense of purpose in the current environment of stagnating exports and sluggish farm prices. Tourism has become a well-recognised national success story and primary conduit for job-creation and income distribution, especially at the grassroots level.
The TAT last year won the bid to host Asia’s first TBEX against formidable competition, including neighbouring countries in ASEAN. The original announcement had projected a turnout by more than 1,000 bloggers and online writers, including 52% from the USA, 37% from Europe and 11% from Asia and Australia. However, the Aug 17 bomb attack in Bangkok, just two months before TBEX Asia, scared off some bloggers. As the attacked turned out to be a flash-in-the-pan, with no subsequent fallout, the TAT went into high gear to ensure that TBEX stayed on. The numbers did fall short of target but the projected profile of those who turned up appeared to be about right.
TBEX was first held in 2008 and has been organised annually in Europe and the United States. With attendance on the rise, the organisers, TBEX LLC, decided to head for Asia to tap its immense market potential. The TAT’s regular attendance at previous TBEX helped it learn a lot about developing powerful online and digital marketing strategies to reach target audiences, especially young travellers and families. A range of award-winning social media campaigns have been rolled out, such as contests and competitions that allow participants to compete for mouth-watering prizes, including free stays in Thailand.
Many of the new-generation bloggers are young women. Quite a few are blogging full-time while others are part-timers. This editor met with several of them, including one husband-and-wife team who had been travelling in Thailand for three months prior to the TBEX. Several young Thai bloggers were also in attendance. In addition to getting access to free travel, they are seeking ways to expand their profiles, learn new ways to use technology, improve their craft, network and make money.
Attending TBEX Asia cost the bloggers only US$177 but they had to pay their own hotel and air-fare. Industry executives paid US$797. Fifty better-known bloggers, plus speakers and organisers, were hosted, with airline tickets provided by Thai Airways International and Turkish Airlines. More financial support came from the Thailand Exhibition & Convention Bureau.
The TBEX organising committee got an appetiser in March 2015 when the TAT arranged a preview trip along five travel routes across Thailand. After TBEX, bloggers could avail of 10 hosted tours to some of the hottest new Thai products and destinations. The TAT arranged all the itineraries and functions around the “Discover Thainess” theme, from Thai massage at the opening party to Thai boxing at the Asiatique closing party. The welcome dinner was held at the Suan Pakkard Palace, Thailand’s first museum which opened in 1952, and boasts a spectacular collection of antiquities by former Royal Family members.
Many of the bloggers had never been to Asia before. They did what most visitors enjoy doing in Thailand – shop, eat, get a massage, race around the city in a tuk-tuk, and much more. The SACICT exhibits proved to be a huge draw. On the last day, during networking sessions, one of the better known bloggers collected travel stories from the participants. Bloggers were guided through the process of making an audio recording of their Discover Thainess experiences, with the stories being made available to the TAT hosts and the event sponsors.
To help the bloggers extend their stay, 58 hotels in Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Krabi and Phuket, and a number of other cities were open to receiving pitches from bloggers in exchange for free rooms. Bloggers had to pitch the hotels and let them know why they and their blog “are a great fit for their property and area of the country.” They were also advised to attach a media kit and/or provide relevant metrics.
One blogger who found “Thainess” well below par was Audrey Barbaud of France. The only Person with Disability (PwD) at the event, the wheelchair-bound Ms Barbaud said she had found facilities and services for PwDs lacking in most of the places. Hotels which claimed to be PwD-friendly on their websites were in fact not quite so. Toilets and transportation facilities were woefully inadequate. “Will you be blogging about this?” I asked. “Yes, sure,” she replied. “Good,” I said. “This is one major area of weakness in Thailand. Perhaps they will improve it after reading your blog.”
The event did meet the original objective of promoting Thailand and Thainess to the young generation of bloggers and their thousands of followers. The TAT said it had recorded millions of impressions. After the Aug 17 bomb attack, the emergency objective was to spread the word that Thailand is more than back to normal. That, too, was achieved. Inbound visitor flow is back up to speed and the TAT expects to cross the official target of 28.8 million arrivals this year. The baton for the next TBEX Asia was handed to Manila, between Oct 13-16, 2016.