Published on : Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Just when Thailand was on its way to restoring the peace and calm of its country, tourist visitation were increasing, a shocking bombing incident ripped the peace of the nation and filled fear, suspicious and insecurity among people. The Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-ochahas termed this incident as the “worst ever attack” on the country.
The attack killed 21 foreign tourists and there were many more that were injured. The government is clueless as to who may have triggered such an incident when things were suddenly looking better and promising for the country.
The bomb was targeted at an Erawan Hindu shrine; a major tourist attraction. The bomb was detonated at 19:00 local time (12:00 GMT) on Monday when the Ratchaprasong junction in Bangkok was overcrowded.
Thailand’s baht currency slumped to a more than six-year low, and shares have fallen in Bangkok with tourism sector being hit severely. The baht fell to 35.648 against the dollar in early trading on Tuesday, its lowest point since April 2009.
Andrew Stotz, CEO of Bangkok-based Stotz Investment Research said that the blast came in the peak tourism season and this could gravely affect the 8.5 percent of GDP that the country earns from this sector.
Travel And Tour World was in an interview with the Minister of Tourism and Sports Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul a few months earlier, we would like to share with our readers how the minister was viewing the tourism prospect of her country and how she proposed to bring drastic measures to improve the quality of tourism in Thailand.
Travel and Tour World: Given the present political conditions, how is the tourism ministry looking towards reviving the tourism situation in Thailand?
Minister: Under the current administration, I have been given charge of the tourism and sports portfolio. I am honoured to take up this very critical position because the Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha recognises the tourism industry as one of its priority economic sectors, a primary source of foreign exchange earnings, and means of income distribution, especially to provincial areas.
The Kingdom of Thailand has been a democratic country for over 80 years and is still developing on the path towards the ideal form of democracy. Along the way, we have faced and overcome adversity. At this point in time, a full reform of the country is now undergoing the necessary processes as we lay a solid foundation for a general election.
Martial Law in Thailand is totally different from other countries. The main purpose is for security reasons; in fact, it does not affect the general public’s daily life nor disturb tourists’ holidays in Thailand. On the contrary, it increases the safety and security for Thai citizens as well as foreign tourists.
The most important development has been the restoration of peace and stability in Thailand. The Thai government has introduced and enforced a series of measures and developments in order to help improve the experience of travellers and tourists visiting the kingdom. In addition to robust marketing campaigns, we are also working hard to address some of the underlying challenges that have impacted the industry over the years.
Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and Phuket International Airport have seen actions to clampdown on illicit taxi operations. Phuket has also witnessed its popular beaches in Patong, Surin, Bang Tao and other beaches being returned to their natural pristine states, following a clear-out of beach encroachment. In addition, Pattaya and Hua Hin have witnessed their beachside walk being cleared out of illegal business operations.
The government gives the first priority on security measures, especially for tourists, by planning to implement more surveillance cameras and lighting tourist destinations across Thailand. More Tourist Police will facilitate and ensure safety for tourists. Zoning laws will be improved to enhance sustainability at various tourist destinations.
On the marketing and promotions side, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is ensuring Thailand’s brand image remains strong in spite of the political issues. Social media campaigns are being waged with great gusto. A new branding slogan, “2015 Discover Thainess” has been coined to help highlight all the unique characteristics of Thai culture, heritage and traditions. We have also gone ahead with all our participation in international trade shows, and conducted numerous roadshows worldwide. All in all, we have done our best to ensure minimal impact, and I think we have succeeded.
Travel and Tour World: International arrivals have drastically declined since the last eight months; this must have been quite a setback as Thailand was enjoying robust tourism the same time a year ago. Please share your opinions with us.
Minister: Thailand has been through many ups and downs over the last two decades. We have always learned from experience, and we have learned a lot from this latest experience. For example, we vastly improved our social media marketing skills and strategies. We began to promote provincial destinations to make up for the decline in visitors to Bangkok. We have also gained more respect for the role and importance of low-cost airlines.
We tried to convert crisis into opportunity, and as I said above, I think we have succeeded. We did see a positive upturn in visitor arrivals in the last quarter of 2014. The 2014 October-December figures bounced back with the growth of 6.96% over the same period of 2013.
Travel and Tour World: Which destinations are you hoping to promote in Thailand where tourists will be interested to visit and would consider the destination safe.
Minister: In 2015, the focus will be on emerging cities of Thailand as well as special interest markets; such as, golf, honeymoon and weddings, health and wellness. For those international visitors who have already visited many of Thailand’s popular tourist spots, we have compiled a list of emerging tourist provinces and cities in different parts of the country, as follows:
Northeast: Buriram, Loei
North: Phetchabun, Lampang, Nan
East: Chanthaburi, Trat
South: Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chumphon
Central Region: Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi
The Thai government does its best to ensure adequate security everywhere, but tourists also have to ensure that they do not take unnecessary risks. Prevention and precaution are better than cure.
Travel and Tour World: What are the new policies adopted for reemergence?
Minister: Taking full advantage of the return to peace and order in the kingdom, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has laid out the “2015 Discover Thainess” campaign targetting an estimated 41 billion USD (1.35 trillion Baht) in revenue earnings from foreign tourists and 24.3 billion USD (800 billion Baht) from domestic tourists.
The core concepts will be to restore visitor confidence in Thailand by promoting Thainess, happiness, sustainable, balanced and equitable growth.
A major global campaign will be targeted at both first-time and repeat visitors to experience the “Thai Way of Happiness” and then make use of social media to pass on their experiences to their families, friends and colleagues. When tourists are happy, they will forward their messages across their social media networks.
Thailand will also take advantage of the opportunities that will be opened up by the enhanced facilitation and transportation connectivity under the integrated ASEAN Community 2015. This will allow development of special cross-border tour packages and caravans to Lao PDR., Cambodia and beyond to Vietnam and China.
The focus will be on secondary cities in the existing major performing markets and continued emphasis on special interest markets; such as, golf, honeymoon and weddings, health and wellness.
Travel and Tour World: Is Thailand a safe destination now? How would you like to reassure tourists and visitors?
Minister: Safety and security is important not just for tourists but for the local people. As mentioned earlier, the government has upgraded security measures at numerous tourist spots by implementing more surveillance cameras and lighting tourist destinations across Thailand. More Tourist Police will facilitate and ensure safety for tourists. Zoning laws will be improved to enhance sustainability at various tourist destinations.
Travel and Tour World: Incidents like the death of the British tourists and certain remarks by junta leaders have somewhat undermined the status of the junta leadership and provoked doubts in the minds of tourists. What efforts are being taken to change the situation?
Minister: While any tragedy or misfortune that befalls any tourist is regrettable, we have not seen any serious impact on visitor arrivals to Thailand as a whole. As I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, safety and security is a major priority, and we are taking the necessary measures. Furthermore, there is “bad news” all over the world these days. So we are doing the best we can, but no country in the world can guarantee 100% safety 100% of the time.
Travel and Tour World: What benefits and incentives are you planning to provide in airfares and hotels to woo tourists?
Minister: The Royal Thai Government has taken a number of measures to provide tax breaks for domestic travel and the meetings sector. Domestic tourism has proved to be a saving grace and we are keen to encourage it. We also waived visa fees for visitors from China and Taiwan between August – October 2014 and this proved to be effective in reviving the flow of Chinese visitors.
In addition, Individual private operators may have their own promotional campaigns, which can attract more tourists.
Travel and Tour World: Medical tourism still seems to be a great draw. Despite political conditions, tourists find Thailand to be a very convincing medical tourism destination? How do you plan to increase this status?
Minister: The terminology we prefer is “health and wellness tourism”, which refers to both the preventive and curative sides. It is defined as “foreigners who travel to a country specifically for health and wellness treatments.”
On the curative side, international patients come to receive medical treatment due to the quality of our specialist doctors, modern facilities, equipment and excellent services, reasonable prices and immediate access to treatment and professional help.
On the preventive side, many people are travelling to Thailand to learn how to meditate, practise Thai massage, yoga and other such therapies and treatments designed to prevent medical problems from occurring, rather than just seeking cures and treatments for existing problems.
The National Development Strategy Plan (2012-2016) has set the goal of positioning Thailand as a World-Class Health Care Destination; thereby, the following four objectives have been assigned due to their strong potential as generators of national income:
The TAT prominently includes health and wellness tourism in all our marketing activities, including:
Travel and Tour World: Finally, what assuring words do you plan to send out to our readers to drive away their fears and welcome them back to the Amazing Thailand?
Minister: The core tourism assets and values of our Amazing Thailand remain unchanged – wonderful destinations, warm and hospitable people, great value for money and excellent infrastructure to travel, shop, dine and relax, for people of all incomes and demographic profiles.
In addition in the year 2015, we would like to invite tourists around the world to visit our Amazing Thailand and discover the unique “Thainess” where tourists cannot find elsewhere. The charming Thai hospitality of our local communities is awaiting your discovery. We are looking forward to welcoming you to “2015 Discover Thainess” in Thailand.
Tags: Andrew Stotz, CEO of Bangkok-based Stotz Investment Research, Chumphon Central Region: Samut Songkhram, Erawan Hindu shrine, lampang, Loei North: Phetchabun, Minister of Tourism and Sports Thailand Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan East: Chanthaburi, Northeast: Buriram, Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-ochahas, Ratchaburi, Thailand, Trat South: Trang, Travel and Tour World