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Thailand's new tourism sector

Article - October 14, 2011
That Thailand is a dream holiday destination is a secret to none; and the country's solid tourism sector performance over the last years, despite regular political woes, is a testimony to this.

But Thailand's tourism sector has been undergoing a significant transformation since the days blockbuster The Beach boosted the country's popularity, especially amongst European backpackers.

Indeed this trend has brought vast crowds to Thailand's key attractions and Bangkok's Khaosan Road perfectly embodies the impact on the country's landscape. But today, the Government wants to broaden the country's tourism sector, increase average tourist spending and double its number of visitors by 2015.

This may sound ambitious, and it is; but the turmoil of the recent years have taught us 2 important lessons: 1. Thailand enjoys deep-rooted loyalty, especially amongst Europeans and numbers will continue to grow in the coming years. 2. If it is to reach its ambitious target, it is imperative for Thailand to diversify its offer and spread it geographically. Indeed the strength of Phuket's attraction and the number of other options available to tourists across the country were real advantages when Bangkok was unstable.

Whilst Thailand's beautiful beaches and spectacular monuments will remain popular, it is another of the country's core feature that will help broaden Thailand's tourism sector: the world-renowned hospitality of the Thai people. You could argue that Thailand has plenty of hotels already and you would be right. In fact that's precisely the challenge: fill this large and growing number of rooms whilst increasing revenue per average available room (REVPAR) at the same time. The solution seems clear in Thailand: develop key sub-sectors such as MICE, sports & health tourism. And the benefits of doing so are vast: widen the tourism sector's revenue base, spread the country's appeal to new locations (and there are many) while consolidating the country's image internationally to further boost trade and investment.

Health tourism is already widely considered a success story in Thailand despite some significant challenges remaining. Indeed, Thailand's sound (private sector-) facilities and welcoming smiles attract 1.4 million visitors per year, a figure that is expected to reach 1.6 million and generate $3.4 billion in revenue when the ASEAN Economic Community is formally implemented in 2015.

On the MICE front, the infrastructure is already well under way. Bangkok boasts some world-class facilities and more are being built in Phuket, Chiangmai Mai and other places. Airport facilities are being upgraded in parallel, ahead of the expected rise in visitor numbers in the coming years. One of the most highly-anticipated events this year, the BOI Fair 2011 'Going Green for the Future’ organized to celebrate King Bhumibol's landmark 84th birthday will be the largest of its kind in the country and represent Thailand’s bid for World Expo 2020. The fair, which will showcase Thailand's broad investment appeal, will be set up at leading developer Bangkok Land's pioneering Impact Exhibition and Convention Center, Muang Thong Thani.

In the field of sports, Thailand lags behind by regional standards with Singapore in the pole position with its first Formula 1 Grand Prix this year. But the country isn't sitting still either; the nation's major event of the year, the PTT Thailand Open 2011, which is organized at the Impact Arena, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2012. The ATP-250 tournament can proudly claim to have hosted such iconic players as Federer, Roddick or Nadal. And this year didn't disappoint either as Andy Murray displayed superior skills to win in Bangkok.
December will see the country's first world-class Thailand Golf Championship at Amata Spring Country Club near the capital city. The prestigious full-field Asian Tour event will surely put Thailand in the spotlight with recent Major champions Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, along with world number two Lee Westwood, headlining the US$1 million showpiece. Other major events include yachting regattas and even the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup.

All in all, Thailand is determined to grow its tourism sector but not just in terms of size. Diversification is the key word here; different kinds of products on offer mean diversified sources of revenue and geographical diversification means less vulnerability to social or climatic challenges which tend to remain localized. Thailand has laid solid foundations for its tourism development based on its core advantages; now is the time to mature to one of the leading tourism destination in the world for the benefit of all.