HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Offbeat tourist attractions by the side of the road

Five-prong plan to boost competitiveness of tourist industry

Foreign tourist arrivals up for Thailand

Race on to make Thailand Asia’s tourism hub

Nong Khai to hold Naga Fireball Festival in October

Air New Zealand and Qantas to appeal ACCC decision

Offbeat tourist attractions by the side of the road

By Julie Young
Associated Press Writer

They run the gamut from cheap and tacky to mildly amusing to downright peculiar. You don’t usually find them in American Automobile Association tour books; they’re not rated and they come with no guarantees.

They’re the offbeat tourist attractions, and Indiana - like most states - has plenty of them.

Darwin, Minnesota, has the “world’s biggest ball of twine.” Chicago has a giant built out of plastic barrels, and the Poconos are home to the Oscar Mayer “Wiener mobile.”

Indiana’s range from a grave in the road to peculiar pastries.

Driving through Amity, near Franklin, motorists need to pay special attention. The grave of Nancy Barnett sits smack in the middle of Hill’s Camp Road, a country road near a cornfield.

Barnett had been dead more than 65 years when county officials decided to widen the road in 1901 and move the cemetery that sat along the banks of Sugar Creek. In protest, Barnett’s grandson, Daniel O. Doty, sat atop his grandma’s grave with a shotgun. Eventually, they built the road around Barnett, and she rests there to this day.

The small berg of Milltown, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Louisville, is home to the Shoe Tree. It’s not a closet accessory, but a real tree adorned with hundreds of pair of shoes.

According to “Oddball Indiana: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places,” by Jerome Pohlen (Chicago Review Press, $13.95), people first noticed a pair of shoes hanging from the branches of the tree about 25 years ago. It became popular for folks to tie their laces together and hurl their footwear into history.

St. Louis may have its arch, and those hankering for an oddity en route to a traditional Missouri vacation, might want to stop in Terre Haute for another of Indiana’s curiosities: square doughnuts. The logic behind the bakers at the city’s three Square Donut shops is that square doughnuts maximize the number of pastries on a preparation tray. Oddly enough, the people who bring forth such a revolutionary idea can only make round doughnut holes.

In Lafayette, the Pizza King franchise has high carpeted booths, individual coin-operated televisions and tableside phones for placing orders. A toy train runs along the booths to deliver drinks to the tables.

Books on curious roadside attractions abound. Pohlen has written a series of his “Oddball” guides for other states (Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin), and there are even other books about Indiana’s unusual places: Dick Wolfsie’s “Indiana Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff” and Phyllis Thomas’ “Indiana: Off the Beaten Path,” both $13.95 from Globe Pequot Press.

Web sites devoted to the peculiar, including www.road, have message boards, chat rooms and descriptions of locales that could inspire a few creative destinations.

Of course, one way to find the truly unique is to simply soak up some local color and ask around. The only problem with this, according to Wolfsie, is that after years of living near curiosities, people stop noticing them.

“They see it everyday, so it’s not odd,” he says.

Five-prong plan to boost competitiveness of tourist industry

Tourism Federation of Thailand president Wichit Na Ranong recently revealed a five-pronged plan to boost the competitiveness of Thailand’s tourism industry.

“The plan includes developing run-down tourist destinations, solving problems of inequitable treatment meted out to tourists by a small number of companies, boosting tourist access in terms sufficient airline seats and improve domestic transportation to ensure that tourists do not end up concentrated in a small number of destinations. We must also add to the value of both old and new tourist destinations, and work to instill confidence in tourists visiting Thailand that they are safe from terrorism,” Wichit said.

Wichit added that Thailand should ensure the stringent inspection of all visitors arriving in the country, tighten regulations concerning the issuance of visas, and train both tourism companies and members of the public to take care of visitors to tourism destinations across the country. (TNA)

Foreign tourist arrivals up for Thailand

Foreign tourist arrivals at Bangkok International Airport in August were up on the same month last year, the first month to show an increase since the outbreak of SARS in April.

It was only a small increase - 634,493 compared with 633,950 in August 2002 - but it was enough for Minister of Sports and Tourism Sontaya Khunpluem to say he was delighted at the turnaround. “We believe we may be the first country in Asia to be able to report a month-on-month increase. It shows how quickly tourism can bounce back from even the most severe crisis,” he said.

“The government has released the additional budget of 500 million baht (US$12 million) requested by TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) for disbursement and the new budget for 2003/04 will be on tap soon thereafter,” the minister added. (TTG Asia)

Race on to make Thailand Asia’s tourism hub

The government has begun the race to turn Thailand into Asia’s tourism hub, with strategies for the transformation of the country into a regional tourism center set to be submitted to the Cabinet for consideration by the end of the year, according to Tourism and Sports Minister Sontaya Khunpluem.

Speaking at a seminar on the development of competitiveness in the tourism industry, organized by the Tourism Federation of Thailand to mark its first anniversary, Sontaya said that the ministry was making haste to draw up strategic plans that would see Thailand emerge as a regional tourism hub during the years 2004-2006.

Expressing confidence that the plans would be ready for submission to the Cabinet by the end of the year, he said that the ministry’s strategies would put marketing at the core, whether in terms of the development of tourism products and destinations or the search for new tourism markets. He forecast that once the plans were put into practice, Thailand would see visitor numbers grow by no less than 10 percent each year, with average visitor spending up from 3,700 baht to 4,000 baht per day. (TNA)

Nong Khai to hold Naga Fireball Festival in October

The northeastern province of Nong Khai is gearing up to host special activities and prepare extra home-stay accommodation for hordes of arrivals during the Naga fireball phenomenon next month.

The mysterious Naga or serpent fireball shooting into the sky from the Mekong River occurs every year on the first full moon night of October coinciding with the end of the Buddhist Lent. The festival will run from October 6-12 on the banks of the Mekong River and Nongtin Park.

The activities include a competition of illuminated floats in respect to the Naga, a long boat race, marathon run, ceremonial consecration of the Naga, spectacular light and sound show of the legend in tribute to the Naga fireball and making merit rites.

“More than 400,000 tourists are expected at this year’s 7-day event,” said Wongsak Sawatpanich, Nong Khai governor. (TNA)

Air New Zealand and Qantas to appeal ACCC decision

Air New Zealand and Qantas have announced they will apply for review of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) decision to turn down the airlines’ application for authorization to form a strategic alliance.

Air New Zealand Managing Director and CEO Ralph Norris said that while disappointed with the ACCC’s decision, the next step would be to apply for review of the decision by the Australian Competition Tribunal.

Norris said, “We remain confident that the Australian Competition Tribunal review process affords us another opportunity to present our full case for the alliance and we remain confident that we can achieve a positive outcome.”