Is Thailand tourism terrific No Longer?
Market Spotlight: Thailand
Throw in decreasing consumer confidence to the already derailed global economy, and you have a recipe for disaster.
As the political drama unfolded in ‘the Land of smiles', marketers find themselves embroiled in what would, undoubtedly, be one of the few herculean challenges in their careers. The everlasting debate between traditional sales-generation and tactical brand-building ceases to exist as both become indispensable to the business.
"There's nothing you can do until the situation calms down. The first thing affected in this sort of crisis is the tourism industry. It's a knee-jerk reaction," Elena Arabadjieva, deputy vice president of resort marketing at Resorts World Sentosa says. However, she believes the Thai tourism industry will recover quickly as Thailand has a reputation as a very welcoming place.
Receding visits, cancellations, postponements prompted the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to step in, and issue a statement to reassure the market that all hotels, resorts and exhibition venues in the country were "open for business as usual".
Marketers believe carrying out substantial damage control is crucial and the TAT is handling the job well. "TAT is doing a terrific job. Currently, they are organising a large scale familiarisation trip and inviting 23 countries to the Kingdom. They are not only focusing on the popular tourist attractions such as Phuket, they are highlighting other areas like the North East," Natasha Eldred, assistant director of marketing communications at Laguna Phuket, says.
TAT is leaving no stone unturned to salvage Thailand's repute as the "Land of Smiles'. The mega familiarization trip (‘Fam' trip) runs from 8-12 October with more than 800 media representatives and travel operators from around the world, under the "Visit Thailand Year 2009" campaign. Moreover, it plans to organise a total of eight international "Amazing Thailand" roadshows from September to November, and is also sending its representatives to participate in 13 international travel trade shows.
Nevertheless, no marketer underestimates the importance of strategic marketing for the hospitality sector, at such a crucial juncture. "The worst thing possible people can do is stop marketing," adds Arabadjieva.
Marketers well realise the need to keep the customers in the loop and send out positive messages. Thailand's Hilton Hotels, for instance, is taking to big promotional efforts including generous discounts, flexible and bespoke packages in order to bring back tourists to the resort.
"It may take over than six months to restore confidence in the country as a destination amongst overseas tourists, but we keep clients updated and keep assuring them that the situation in Bangkok is safe," Kodchakorn Chakreyarat, director of sales, Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa, says.
Other Hilton resorts in different parts of Thailand have lined up several activities to coincide with important events, such as the Loy Krathong festival in November. The highlight of the festival is the floating of thousands of small rafts laden with lit candles into the waterways at night around Thailand.
"The candle rafts are to show respect for Buddha and floating them symbolises starting afresh - something the Thai people believe in very strongly. It is quite appropriate given the current circumstances," Maria Nakpil, regional director of marketing, Asia, Hilton Hotels, says.
The group continues to promote Hilton Minibreaks which is designed to meet the needs of the leisure traveller seeking short breaks, be it a weekend getaway or during the various national or school holidays across key source markets.
However, in spite of the myriad marketing cum branding initiatives that marketers in Thailand are preparing, there is a growing feeling that their hands are partly tied as the media could rethink about its reportage on Thailand.
"Travel decisions are affected by global media coverage. Life in Bangkok and in other parts of Thailand including Phuket is back to normal but this has not made the headline news," Nakpil says.
Chakreyarat believes it is important to send out realistic information about the Thai political situation and refrain from overstating facts. "Prospective clients from overseas base their anxiety on travel warnings from the embassies and negative news clips on international news," she says. As many as 23 governments had warned their people about dangers in Thailand.
Meanwhile, comments from the travel trade reveal that Thailand is still a hot destination and as brand it is strong enough to combat this upheaval.
Even as marketers thank their lucky stars, for it being September, traditionally the low season for international tourists to Thailand, marketing in such times, they say, need to be focused with consumer experience being the pivot.
Industry insiders estimate that marketing spend might probably decrease after the crisis but it need not necessarily be less affective. "Marketing should be smarter and more targeted," Arabadjieva says.
- Hilton Hotels
- Resorts World at Sentosa
- Tourism Authority of Thailand
- Laguna Phuket
- Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa
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