As Thailand’s post-tsunami recovery falters we ask: What’s going wrong?
by Andrew J Wood
The old saying of, “You can lead a horse to water but
you can’t make it drink,” sprang to mind when
reading recent press reports from various industry leaders suggesting we
need to support Phuket and the south. One leading travel organization was
quoted as saying just recently, “It was time for travellers and the travel
industry to rally behind the destinations.” But some 8 months after the
event, I feel there has not been any lack in trying, but can you really
artificially inseminate market demand, when it really doesn’t want to
blossom just yet?
I recently returned from a private visit to North America
and during my trip took time to visit Ground Zero. The hustle and bustle of
lower Manhattan was still very evident, but around the site of the WTC,
people were walking quietly, with hushed voices, and one could not but
notice that one was visiting a place where something quite monumental had
taken place. People were exhibiting a different kind of behavior.
I guess this is also a factor with the south, and why
recovery has been slower than forecast. People just don’t like travelling
to destinations where many lives have been lost.
When complaints that air capacity to Phuket is down 18%
and this is blamed also for a reduction of 40% of visitors to the island, is
that really correct?
I guess if I was an airline operator (and no thank you by
the way, I don’t see many happy airline people these days except perhaps
in the Middle East), I wouldn’t be sending empty aircraft to a destination
just to keep up “seat availability”. I would switch to routes that are
more profitable, until there is market demand.
Discounts, free rooms, and fam trips galore, are starting
to have an effect but the tourism chiefs are wondering why it is taking so
long. Well I guess one of the other reasons is that no matter what plans and
case studies are scoured through to help find answers, there never was
anything quite like Dec 26, 2004 before, with quite as much media coverage
as before. It is unusual that it is taking so long for people to
forget; normally the industry has been grateful for short memories, but we
have not got away with that one this time round.
So maybe let’s take a step backwards for a second, and
here I have to apologise to all my southern colleagues because what I
personally feel is not something they are going to like to hear.
Why continue to pin hopes on an ‘early’ southern
A recent survey showed that visitor arrivals to Bangkok
are, however, up. Would it therefore be prudent to expound on the virtues of
the capital, and the north, and put market dollars into promotion campaigns
to areas of Thailand that are in demand and able to carry the extra burden
of visitor arrivals?
Sell into your strengths but don’t forget your
weaknesses is a good marketing rule. Like life itself, it is a balance, and
I am not advocating abandoning the south - far from it. Continue with the
message of normalisation, but let’s move and speed up the healing and
after shocks of the tsunami with an aggressive campaign expounding our
strengths, not lamenting our weaknesses and reminding ourselves of our
failures. After all, tourists don’t just stay in one location; they do
tend to move around, and south is one direction we all hope they’re
Andrew J Wood is the general manager of the Chaophya Park Hotel &
MICE at Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort
(right), EAM of Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi Resort Chiang Mai welcomed an
Australian MICE group interested in promoting this charming destination to
the Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition market in Australia.
Oil price hikes force THAI to raise surcharge
Thai Airways International Public Company Limited (THAI),
the national flag carrier, has decided to increase its surcharge for all
types of passengers due to continuing oil price hikes, a THAI executive
Somchainuk Engtrakul, a THAI board member who was
recently appointed to perform his duty on behalf of the company’s
president, Kanok Abhiradee, told journalists that the new surcharge had been
added to airfares of all THAI’s tickets booked or purchased at the
company’s sales offices and agents throughout the country since 16 August.
He disclosed that the surcharge would, however, be
imposed on all air tickets booked or purchased from THAI’s sales offices
and agents abroad from 5 September on.
The surcharge ranges from Bt 300 per trip, or Bt 600 per
round trip for all domestic routes. All Asian and Middle Eastern routes will
have a surcharge of US$25 (about Bt 1,000) per trip, previously Bt 200 per
trip. Australia’s, New Zealand’s and all other inter-continental routes
will be charged from US$20 (about Bt 800) to US$50 (about Bt 2,000) per
trip, previously US$35 (about Bt 1,400).
Somchainuk promised that the national airline would reduce the additional
surcharge once the global oil situation returns to normal. (TNA)
Northern hotels chase corporate meeting business
Thai Hotels Association’s Northern Chapter and the
Thailand Incentive Convention Association will organize the Chiang Mai
Meeting Mart and Seminar 2005, from October 19 to 21, to promote MICE
The mart aims to promote the events business in Chiang
Mai province particularly targeting the corporate market. While promoting
hotels in Chiang Mai, hotels in Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son will also be
included, according to THA’s Northern Chapter president, Sangworng
“Normally, the events market in Chiang Mai is driven by
domestic government sectors but we need to extend the platform to include
company meetings and events. We will target companies because it has a high
potential to grow, as more companies invest in Thailand,” he added.
Approximately 25 companies such as soft drink firms,
automobile and insurance companies will attend the seminar. Around 50 hotels
and companies related to the MICE business in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae
Hong Son will meet company executives to present their meeting facilities.
The event will include a forum to exchange MICE business
ideas between the corporate group and MICE exhibitors and hotels. The
program also includes hotel inspections, sightseeing in northern provinces,
gala dinner and presentations.
“Many local incentive groups cancelled trips to Phuket
and are now looking for alternative destinations for their staff’s
incentive or meeting programs,” Sangworng said.
“The event will cost around B. 1.5 to B. 2 million but
we expect that it will improve incentive related bookings by 20 percent next
Meanwhile, Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Northern
Office Region 1 promotes the MICE business through road shows in the main
provinces such as Khon Kaen and Udon Thani.
The latest Chiang Mai tourism statistics released by TAT
for the first quarter of this year showed 1,071,770 visitors, an increase of
just under 1.5 percent from the 1,056,900 arrivals last year. There were
556,339 Thai visitors and 515,431 foreigners. Tourism revenue was B.
Hotels in Chiang Mai province increased from 264 to 280
and their rooms from 14,421 to 16,815, last year. Average occupancy was
THAI plans to increase domestic fares
Thai Airways International vice president commercial,
Vasing Kittikul, said the national carrier has filed for higher fares with
the Thai Department of Civil Aviation in time for the winter schedule.
Vasing said the airline would adjust the fares by
adapting a zoning system according to regions - north, south, and Northeast.
He believes the new fare structure will encourage other
domestic carriers to introduce fares that reflect the real operational
costs. Meanwhile, an increase would also help airlines to turn a profit on
some route such as Phitsanulok, or Khon Kaen.
According to Vasing, revenue from its domestic operations
represented approximately 10 percent of overall revenue. Vasing believes the
routes could declare a profit in the fourth quarter.