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Towards making Thailand a destination of choice  

Towards making Thailand a destination of choice

TOURISM Authority of Thailand Governor Suraphon Svetsreni had identified three key challenges in its mission to make Thailand the destination of choice for travellers from all over the world.

These are:
1. Changing socio-economic factors,
2. Paradigm shifts in the way global population think and act and the way each country strengthens its competitiveness and
3. The importance of crisis management and communications.

He said today's market structure was quite different from before and although Thailand welcomed about 19.09 million international arrivals in 2011, a detailed look at the market structure shows challenges in the landscape, or geography.

The arrival figures last year was 3.16 million higher than 2010 and represented a growth of 19.84 per cent.

Mr Suraphon said the challenge was how to handle this changing market structure. “As we have realised the market shift for some time, the TAT has been deploying a Look East Strategy.”

It included concrete initiatives; such as, opening more TAT offices in Asia, in Mumbai, Jakarta, Kunming, Chengdu and Guangzhou. He also said global warming was affecting lifestyles, tourism, and even the quality of natural tourism sites. Thailand had experienced coral bleaching due to the rising temperature of seawater. Many regions of the world have also seen extended summers or winters due to seasonal fluctuations.

Awareness of changes in the environment is leading to greener lifestyles and more eco-friendly consumption values. Another aspect of the paradigm shift involves how countries develop a competitive edge. There is more competitiveness gained through alliances in which countries take a win-win approach to economic policies. This concept has led to Economic Blocs in many regions, including ASEAN.

The TAT's experience shows that no matter what type of crisis occurs — economic, political, health issues, natural disasters, or terrorism — there is always some impact on the tourism sector. International travellers are very sensitive to situations and incidents, particularly in today's world where news travels very fast through many channels, especially those online.

Due to the proliferation of social media and the moment-to-moment reporting by citizen journalists and I-Reporters, this makes crisis management and communications more difficult for the tourism industry. As the parties often involved in a crisis are not tourism-related, the TAT has to wait for accurate information from others, which further delays communications. Realising the importance of responding rapidly to a crisis situation, the TAT established the Tourism Intelligence Unit and Crisis Management Centre or TIC. It is a centralised co-ordination centre that collects information and implements communications response plans when a crisis situation arises.

The TAT uses traditional and online media channels to communicate in a timely manner with the most up-to-date, correct, and relevant information. We have invested in information technology for crisis communications; such as, distributing situation updates, and live broadcasts from webcams at popular tourist attractions. We also do online crisis and reputation management, monitoring 32,000 web sites and being involved in more than 20 social media channels worldwide. Mr Suraphon stressed that these were the three major challenges that we must respond to carefully.

There would also be many more minor challenges ahead; such as the changing socio-economy that drives changes in market segmentation; and issues like energy and currency fluctuations.

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