TRAVEL & TOURISM
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Redeveloping and repositioning Chiang Mai

Valentine’s Day elephant weddings

Industry tell Phuket not to panic and not to dump rates

THAI Offers Special Andaman Fares

Mekong tourism boost

Chiang Mai tourism projections

Progress on THAI’s activities at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Redeveloping and repositioning Chiang Mai

Staff reporters

The Informal Northern Thai Group provided the forum for Shane K Beary of Track of the Tiger to present his ‘Proposal to Redevelop and Reposition Chiang Mai for Tourism’ to an audience that looked convinced by the end of the discourse.

The question and answer session highlighted the fact that most foreign residents were convinced that the cosmetic changes, and attractions currently planned for the city would fall far short of what is needed to achieve the government’s stated objectives in terms of improving the city for both residents and tourists.

Shane Beary

Most also agreed with the assumption made by Shane Beary, that Chiang Mai’s infrastructure, pollution, and other cheap destination related problems would only be overcome when the big investors (private or public sector) were onboard a plan for change.

To get them onboard, they must be shown a plan that was workable, and promised a high return on investment. Several senior government officials, key tourism industry players, and heads of tourism and commerce associations who have read the proposals responded positively.

At their suggestion, Shane Beary is now canvassing the opinion of the various stakeholders and the general public, so that he may then submit any comments to the authorities as a supporting document. Your comments on the full proposal are therefore welcome. (The full proposal is available in PDF format from Shane Beary on [email protected]

The proposal in brief:

Step 1 – Establish the Ping river market

Establish a 3 km long 6 meter wide floating walkway, ideally along both sides of the river as it runs through the heart of the city.

Using modern technologies, moor environmentally friendly river barges of a classic ‘rice barge’ design, as shops, cafes’ and entertainment venues along the length of the floating walkways, creating a ‘unique selling proposition’, the Ping River Market.

Turnstile type entry gates to each end of the floating walkway would facilitate entry fee collections. The turnstiles would also allow the venue to be properly policed in terms of overall safety, and with regard to the control of underage drinking/drug use/prostitution etc.

The proposed walkway

By having some barges double as stadium styled seating units, (on a part time basis) the entire floating market complex can become a special ‘venue’ hosting floating parades, Loy Krathong, Songkran and many others to be created, all capable of generating huge revenues for the city if properly managed and policed.

Step 2.

Establish ‘park and ride’ stations 2 km distant from each corner of the ‘Ping River Market’.

Ban roadside parking in the riverfront area, to force people to use public transport (songtaews first, trams later) running on a circular route between the ‘park and ride’ stations and the Ping River Market. (Example: The Municipal sports stadium.)

Step 3.

Use a combination of financial incentives and social restrictions (soft loans, early closing hours), to entice tourist related businesses to relocate from the city center to the new Ping River Market.

Have the developer/government design and build some of the barges and lease them out to potential clients ensuring a good business mix.

Provide solid argument as to the business sense in being located in a ‘promoted area’ as opposed to one ridden with access and pollution problems.

Step 4. Redevelop the downtown area

Redevelop the ‘reclaimed downtown areas’ converting ugly buildings into three or four floor parking garages, banning roadside parking and turning pavements into tree lined promenades.

Provide development funding for building owners willing to refurbish or reconstruct their buildings in keeping with an accepted La Na design code (to be established by the city’s architects) and to a prepared zoning plan. (Value doubles just on plan acceptance, and again on implementation.)

These buildings can then become either owner operated or leased boutique outlets, sidewalk cafes, and accommodation clusters where perhaps three or four boutique style hotels share common public areas and restaurant facilities.

Step 5. –Make Chiang Mai a regional arts and crafts center for the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Bring in raw, semi-finished, and finished product from China, Burma, Laos and Vietnam.

Bring in craftsmen and artists from all over the region and establish product research and development centers, art schools and colleges in Chiang Mai.

Fund the training and RandD programmes with scholarships with revenue provided by toll gate access to the river market.

Re-invent the handicrafts industry, inject creativity and build a new export market on the re-branded products.

Step 6 – Upgrade and extend the tourism product to cover the low as well as the high seasons.

Develop the higher altitude areas in the hills/mountains around Chiang Mai into ‘all year round’ long stay resorts, health retreats and spas, golf courses, back to nature hill stations. These products to be target marketed at the more affluent tourist, the meetings and incentive business, and the retiree market.

Step 7 – Upgrade the promotion and marketing of Chiang Mai.

Establish a ‘Promotional Bureau’ for Chiang Mai, funded by toll access fees, tourism taxes, and rent revenue from river barges.

Use the Promotional Bureau to promote Chiang Mai the city, its universities, its culture, its export product, a retirement or long stay destination, its IT industry, its agriculture and its aspiration to become a hub for the GMS, to the world.


Valentine’s Day elephant weddings

Saksit Meesubkwang

Valentine’s Day is the day for lovers, and a wonderful date to be married. You can now have a Lanna style marriage on an elephant’s back, thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand TAT), the Elephant Institute in Lampang (under the patronage of Her Highness Princess Kallayaniwattana), and the Lampang Forest Industry Division.

This event aims to both promote Thai tourism and enhance Lampang’s reputation among foreign tourists and to preserve Thai-Lanna traditions. To sponsor loving relations, the Lampang governor is, for the fourth time, inviting couples to get married on an elephant’s back. In 2005 the ceremony will fall on Valentine’s Day and be held at the Thai Elephant Camp Center on Chiang Mai–Lampang Road, Lampang province, from 2 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Whilst not an ancient ritual, marriages on an elephant dates from when a Japanese couple who worked as volunteer mahouts at the Lampang Elephant Center in the last century. Impressed by their charges, they decided to hold their marriage on an elephant. It is believed that they were the first couple to do so. Now TAT and the Lampang Elephant Camp Center helped to preserve the tradition.

Interested couples can ask for more information at the TAT northern region, Chiang Mai (053 248 607), or the Lampang Elephant Camp Center (054 228 108). Numbers are limited and the brides and grooms must register and learn elephant language for two days at the camp to familiarize the animals with them.

In one of the most attractive marriage events in the world, This Lanna marriage tradition features a two kilometer long procession that first goes to the bride’s home to ask for her parents permission. After the wrist binding ceremony, the brides will be sent to their grooms on the elephants. The ceremony will end with the usual wedding party.


Industry tell Phuket not to panic and not to dump rates

Confidence is the problem, not cost

Wrisney Tan, TTG Asia

European buyers have backed calls by Thai Hotels Association (THA) for Phuket hotels not to dump rates even though many are experiencing only 10 percent occupancy.

THA secretary-general Prakit Chinamourphong, in a circular to members this week, wrote, “Drawing tourists by reducing prices by 50 to 70 percent will not help. It will only destroy the pricing structure, and it will be very difficult when we want to bring back the prices.”

Buyers interviewed say they expect a lull for Phuket, lasting at least six months to a year, not because travelers are afraid the disaster may happen again, but because they feel bad making merry in a place where so many lives were lost.

Italy-based Gruppo Alpitour product manager, Cecilia Dorigo, said, “Deluxe properties have got good standing, they should not go down on their rates. It is usually the smaller ones that might. But there is no need to panic because the fact that we are here is proof that we will support the region, so let’s wait. The summer season is coming and we would be able to see some movements then.”

Germany-based Incentive Management owner, Yvonne Otto, said Germans were not keen on Phuket now and she did not expect the market to come back for at least another year. “I don’t see a chance for the market to return no matter how attractive the price and no matter how we try to sell the destination to them. However they are not totally giving up on Thailand but going to other places such as Koh Samui, Bangkok and areas in the north.”

Geneva-based Fert & Cie shareholder, Jean-Claude Fert, said: “Be patient, wait for six months for the Swiss market to come back, don’t dump rates because money is not the issue – they will not come anyway.”

Dusit Laguna Resort Phuket director of sales and marketing, Andrew Cornelio, said hoteliers were divided into two camps. “The first camp feels they should dump their rates since there is no business anyway. The second feel confidence, not rates, is the issue because without that, no one would come even if rooms were free.”

“I think the five-star hotels are quite determined to hang on until the low season starts in April when the rates are usually up to 50 percent lower than the high season. It is the others that may start dropping. We are doing what we can to target the domestic market to support and sustain the business.”

The “impressive” turnout at the ATF is a sign all is not lost, says Berjaya Hotels and Resorts Division acting head, Lucinda Semark. She urged suppliers tempted to dump rates to invest in communications and offer value-added packages instead.

“Just dropping prices would be negative for everybody and would hurt the recovery in the long run. We should get working on good multi-destination packages. Strategically we need to drive revenue by letting travelers experience things they would otherwise not experience.


THAI Offers Special Andaman Fares

From now until March 31, 2005, Thai Airways International (THAI) is offering more special domestic fares for the Andaman Sun Sand and Sea package for passengers traveling with THAI in Economy Class to destinations in Southern Thailand.

Vasing Kittikul, THAI’s Executive Vice President, Commercial, said this special promotion is in response to the Government’s policy to attempt to revive and regain the confidence of tourists traveling Krabi, Phuket, and Trang in the South, that were not affected by the recent tidal waves, as well as to restore public confidence in Thailand’s tourism industry. The promotions include: roundtrip domestic airfares from Bangkok to Krabi, Phuket, and Trang are 4,200 baht, 3,800 baht and 4,400 baht, respectively. Passengers from the North and Northeast to Krabi, Phuket and Trang will receive a 30 per cent discount from the normal fare. For more information, please contact Tel. 0-2628 2000 and 0-2280 0060.

These special Economy Class fares (excluding airport tax and insurance surcharge) are available for flights departing from Bangkok, Khon Kaen, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Pitsanuloke, Udon Thani, and Ubon Ratchathani to Krabi, Phuket and Trang via Bangkok. Passengers are able to make an overnight stop in Bangkok and must hold a confirmed one-way or return ticket.

Royal Orchid Plus members may also accumulate mileage from this promotion. From now until 31 August 2005, ROP members who wish to travel to Krabi, Phuket, or Trang need only 12,000 instead of the usual 15,000 accumulated mileage in exchange for one-way travel in Economy Class. One-way travel in Business Class needs 16,000 accrued mileages instead of 20,000.

For more information and reservations, please contact THAI’s Sales Office at Tel. 0-2628 2000 or 0-2280-0060 or visit THAI’s website at www.thaiairways.com.


Mekong tourism boost

Caroline Boey, TTG Asia

A tourism integration master plan for the Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS) is being developed by Asia Pacific Projects (APP). It includes the creation of a distinctive branding for the grouping, comprising Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan, China.

GMS wants a bigger slice of tourism in ASEAN; its partners to speed up tourism development include UNESCO, ESCAP, the World Tourism Organization and the Asian Development Bank.

Arrivals to the sub-region are expected to rise from 15 million in 2004 to 47 million by 2015. A seven man APP task force, headed by its chairman and director, Ludwig Rieder, has been conducting meetings with the respective stakeholders to determine infrastructure and software requirements.

APP’s marketing and product development consultant, Renton de Alwis, is attending ATF to gather feedback on how GMS can get its “rightful” place in the ASEAN framework.


Chiang Mai tourism projections

Nopniwat Krailerg

In this post-tsunami period, some tourists are still afraid of traveling to the south and have, instead, changed their destination to the north, especially Chiang Mai.

Junnapong Saranak, the director of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Northern Region 1 said, “In the first three months of this year, there will still be an increase depending on the destination change of the tourists. Some of them change because the airlines or tour companies cannot refund their money, so they are asked to change their travel plans and go north. Some of them do it voluntarily because they love Thailand. When the situation is questionable in the south, they go north instead. We cannot definitely state the numbers of tourists visiting as we have to wait until after the first quarter. After March, an analysis of the number of tourists visiting the north will be made to see whether there were less than last year. These numbers will also tell us whether the situation in the south has affected tourism in the north or not.”

“The beginning of this year is considered positive. Some marketing plans for tourism have to be put in place and all tour companies and hotels hold activities for the Chinese New Year, Flower Festival and Songkran. However, an important attraction for tourists is the “Green Season” during June–August. Some discussion among the Chiang Mai tourism board and private organizations revealed that tourism with health services will be promoted with spas, hot springs and other health care services. TAT and the four northern offices have proposed an idea for the campaign “Travel to the North for Good Health” beginning this March. Another prospect is golf in Chiang Mai which has five or six golf courses as the selling point. At this moment, the Night Golf Course on the Chiang Mai-Lamphun road is in preparation and opens at the end of January. The night safari will open in April. It is considered that Chiang Mai night life is increasing and becoming more colorful and it is anticipated that after the first three months of this year, more tourists will come to Chiang Mai because the province has an inherent charm.”

Boonlert Perela, former president of the Chiang Mai Tourism and Business Association, said, “On the whole, the disturbed situation reported by worldwide mass media created an unsafe image of tourism in the whole country. The tsunami catastrophe, however, is exceptional. Some tourists who had reserved trips to the south decided not to visit Thailand at all. Some canceled the trip to Phuket but still traveled to Thailand, some to Chiang Mai. Most chose to travel to other seaside attractions, such as Kho Samui, Hua Hin or Cha-Am. As for Chiang Mai, the situation is not quite clear yet. In fact, Chiang Mai will have more negative effects than positive ones as it is clearly seen that there is a drop in the number of tourists and tourist migration from Scandinavian and European countries.”

Vorapong Muchaotai, president of Thai Hotels Association, Northern Chapter stated that cancellations were less than 1 percent because tourists had already decided on their destination. Package tour groups that cover many provinces in a trip around Thailand had some slight effect.

“The location of the city makes tourists consider it is safe from any danger or catastrophe. Business growth in the first three months could increase by 10 percent compared to the same period last year because more people in Thailand travel in the north rather than to countries in Europe.

“Seaside tourism can attract Chinese or other Asian country tour groups. In the north, tourists from Europe are the main factor of tourism. New five star hotels have a high rate of room occupancy. It is a good sign that the big spending customers are now becoming interested in Chiang Mai.

“The hotel association held a meeting with concerned government divisions and the nine airlines to cooperate with TAT to help eliminate the low season. Campaigns and activities are being planned during May – September. The highlights will be shown in the “All Events in One Basket” style, which will be promoted in road shows in Hong Kong, Taipei, and in Middle East countries.

“An evaluation of the hotel business shows that as the service providers base expands, income may be around 40 billion baht this year since it was 38 billion baht in 2004 and 37 billion baht in 2003. According to the Chiang Mai Provincial Tourism Strategy, the target in 2008 is to reach 70 billion baht as the night safari will then be fully open. In summary, Chiang Mai tourism is moving slowly but never steps back,” Vorapong concluded.


Progress on THAI’s activities at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Thai Airways International (THAI) held a press briefing on its investments at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, chaired by Kobchai Srivilas, THAI’s Senior Executive Vice President, Corporate Planning and Information Technology Services Department.

Kobchai Srivilas said that the Thai government plans to create a “new town” in the vicinity of Suvarnabhumi, with a policy for the Airports of Thailand to provide temporary housing for those who will be working at the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

The Thai government also plans to build “Suvarnabhumi City” with a complete transportation system and all facilities. To that end, THAI signed an agreement with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to be responsible for the re-location of THAI’s equipment to the new airport.

Chokchai Panyayong THAI’s Vice President, Project Development at the New Bangkok International Airport said that as of 4 January 2005, the overall progress in designing and constructing THAI’s buildings is at around 75 percent completed, though some sections are trailing, with the Operations Center building only at 43 percent. The Cargo and Mail Commercial building is at 76 percent, Catering Services at 85 percent; Aircraft Maintenance Center at 80 percent and Ground Support Equipment Services building is at 76 percent. The construction of THAI’s buildings is scheduled to be finished by March 2005 for system testing and completed by 29 September 2005.