HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Air India flags off inaugural Lucknow-Jeddah flight

Survey shows Thailand among top tourist destinations

First natural history museum projected in Phuket

TAT to showcase district products in tourist offices abroad

Thai Hotels Association expects hotel occupancy rate to fall 25 percent

Emirates wins world’s best airline lounges vote

Department stores urged to reduce prices for tourists

Air India flags off inaugural Lucknow-Jeddah flight

India’s Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister, flagged off the inaugural Lucknow-Jeddah flight at a glittering function held at Amausi Airport in Lucknow on May 21st.

The commencement of direct flights between Lucknow and Jeddah will enable passengers from Udar Pradesh and adjoining areas of Bihar to fly with greater comfort as they will no longer have to travel by train or bus to Delhi to take their international flight.

While flights to Jeddah, operated with A-310 will depart from Lucknow on Tuesdays and Fridays, the flights will leave Jeddah for Lucknow on Mondays and Thursdays.

Survey shows Thailand among top tourist destinations

Thailand came in third - tied with the Caribbean island countries - as the first places that came to mind when thinking of tourist destinations, making it the only Asian destination in the top 10, according to the so-called “Branding Thailand” survey.

Italy and France came first and second, respectively while Spain and the United States were tied for fifth, followed by Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand and Switzerland, which all shared the 7th spot.

The Branding Thailand survey was conducted by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in the United States and the Sasin Graduate School of Business Administration at Chulalongkorn University.

The survey said Thailand was rated highest for hospitality to visitors. It also made it to the top in people’s minds as an exotic holiday destination, followed by India, China and Egypt.

Thailand was also top of the list when it came to value for money for shopping holidays with plenty to offer at good prices. However, respondents said that shopping was not a priority factor when they chose to travel.

Interestingly, China was voted as truly representing Asia, thanks in part to its gigantic size, while Thailand came in second. India and Malaysia tied for third. For Thailand, scenery, natural beauty and cuisine were leading factors.

The survey respondents, meanwhile, suggested that in order to become a “Tourism Capital”, the ‘must-have’ attributes were:

*Good infrastructure, wide range of accommodation, easy accessibility and good transport.

*A multitude of attractions and activities, beautiful scenery and landscape.

*Unique, stable government, economy, and environment.

*Welcoming locals who can communicate easily in English.

*Good food.

“Exotic” seems to be the most distinguished and representative word for Thailand, followed by “friendly people”, according to the survey.

And when it came to products and services, food immediately popped up. Textiles, garments and jewelry were also outstanding categories, though tarred with “cheap” and “imitation” images. (TNA)

First natural history museum projected in Phuket

The southern resort island of Phuket will seek a 300 million baht budget to build a natural history museum which is expected to be a new tourist attraction.

Phuket Governor Pongpayom Vassaphuti said, “The natural history museum, which will focus on islands and sea, is expected to boost our long-stay tourism program. Being the first of its kind in Thailand, the museum will exhibit plant species gathered from remote islands throughout the country.”

Apart from the museum, an area will be set apart for growing plant samples. Visitors will be able to see vegetation as green and fresh as found on verdant islands.

A plot of land at Ban Khao Daeng in Muang district of Phuket is chosen to be the location of the natural history museum.

The plan was proposed to the mobile cabinet meeting in Phuket on May 26. “If the government approves the plan, the project will take about 18 months to complete,” the governor added. (TNA)

TAT to showcase district products in tourist offices abroad

The One Tambon, One Product (OTOP) village scheme will be touted to Thai tourist offices around the world. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak called on the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to showcase the products hoping this aggressive marketing program will attract more foreign tourist arrivals.

The scheme comes on the back of the official opening of an ‘OTOP corner’ in the TAT office in Fukuoka on May 22 during Somkid’s tourism road show to three of Japan’s most important cities.

Somkid said he asked the Department of Export Promotion, the TAT and the Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI) to join hands in finding locations to showcase OTOP products, confident that if potential tourists could see the products it would encourage them to travel to the kingdom.

OTOP products chosen for display Fukuoka include wickerwork products from Ang Thong Province, and tie-dyed cloth using natural dyes from Nakhon Ratchasima Province.

The communities producing these goods have both received TAT and Department of Industrial Promotion support. These products have also been joined by goods produced in small and medium enterprises from across the country, and the displays will be varied in accordance with the seasons.

Suthep Keausang, assistant director of the TAT’s development division, said, “When selecting OTOP products the TAT will focus on a combination of culture, traditional ways of life and local activities.” (TNA)

Thai Hotels Association expects hotel occupancy rate to fall 25 percent

Due to a variety of outside factors, including residuals from the war in Iraq and the SARS virus outbreak, Thailand’s hotel occupancy rate could fall by as much as 25 percent.

Thai Hotels Association manager Kaewkwan Chuenbumroong said the average occupancy rate of hotels in the southern resort of Phuket plunged to 30 percent in May from 70 percent in April, and the rate in Bangkok fell from 30 percent in May from 40 percent in April.

The Thai Hotels Association has 429 member hotels throughout the country, with a total of 85,630 rooms.

Kaewkwan said the rate for the first six months of this year is expected to fall by almost half. “We are worried the industry will lose billions of baht from the fallout of the combined impact of the SARS health scare, fear of terrorist attacks and lingering affects of the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, the SARS outbreak has done the most damage. Three and four-star hotels that cater to tourists from Singapore, China, Taiwan and Singapore have had to reduce costs and lay off staff. We hoping the speedy containment of SARS will improve traveler sentiment.” (TNA)

Emirates wins world’s best airline lounges vote

Emirates Airline’s focus on superior customer service has been applauded once again. The airline’s First and Business Class lounges at Dubai International Airport have been voted the World’s Best Airline lounge for 2003.

The Airport Lounge of the Year, the world’s largest survey of airline lounges organized by Skytrax, attracted more than 918,336 eligible nominations over a six-month period.

The award is a result of the extensive refurbishment and upgrades that were implemented last year. The spacious lounges are split into two levels with soothing decor, fully carpeted, leather upholstered seating areas with sofas and arm chairs, surrounded by lush plants and restful fountains. Cozy guest bedrooms upstairs with en suite showers, television and trouser presses provide privacy and personal space.

Lounge staff offer caring service 24 hours a day - serving a wide range of hot and cold meals and refreshments, making bookings, issuing tickets and boarding cards.

Department stores urged to reduce prices for tourists

Thailand’s Tourism Minister Sontaya Kunplome has called on the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to encourage department stores across the country to reduce prices for domestic and foreign tourists in order to ensure that tourists continue to flow into the country.

The TAT has been asked to negotiate with participating stores and further meetings will be held to finalize details of the scheme prior to the official launch of the program.

In addition, Sontaya called on the TAT to liaise with coach companies to provide cut-price day-trip packages for students and young people. He expressed hope that this would help stimulate domestic tourism and boost the income of the coach companies concerned.

Thailand’s next major tourism fair is due to be held on June 5-8 at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, where visitors will be offered 30-70 percent reductions on package tours and special promotions for low season travel.

Visitors will also be offered 25 percent reductions on airfares, and discussions are currently underway with the State Railway and coach companies to offer low-price tickets.

“This second ‘Tour Thailand - Get Lucky’ fair will be held at the same time as the Thailand Grand Sale. I believe revenue from the event will reach around 60 billion baht, up from 40 billion baht last year,” the tourism minister said. (TNA)