TTM+ 2015: Experiential travel & the essence of “Thainess”

06-09-2015 
TTM+ 2015: Experiential travel & the essence of “Thainess”

The Thailand Travel Mart Plus (TTM+) 2015 wrapped up Friday after three days of connecting Thailand tourism operators and service providers with buyers and media.

The 2015 Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) campaign encourages visitors to “Discover Thainess,” a theme much discussed at the event. What exactly is “Thainess”? It’s that unique aspect of Thailand that keeps visitors returning to the country (60 per cent of Canadian  visitors to Thailand have been to the country before) – and it’s all about the Thai people.

“You can’t find the meaning of  ‘Thainess’ in a dictionary,” Jamnong Junnapiya, TAT executive director for the Americas, told PAXnewsWest.com. “But when visitors experience it for themselves, they understand. It’s our way of life. It’s our food, painting and handicrafts. It’s Thai wisdom and culture.”

Community-based tourism is an important part of the Discover Thainess campaign, which aligns with the theme of TTM+ 2015: “Experience with us.” TAT is focused on helping visitors discover Thailand beyond the typical tourist trail of Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. A pavilion on the trade show floor highlighted 12 of the country’s “hidden gems” – provinces that have much to offer travellers but may not be on most visitors’ radar.

“We want to make tourists aware of what all of the provinces have to offer,” Junnapiya said. “The diversity of experiences encourages repeat visitors.” She added that community-based tourism allows local people to earn a living, distributing tourism revenue to every level of society throughout the country.

Among the 12 highlighted hidden gems are Phetchabun, the naturally scenic “Switzerland of Thailand”; Ratchaburi, which offers a thriving art scene; and Trang, the “city of eating.”

Kayla Shubert, TAT representative for Canada, told PAX that Canadian travellers are seeking immersive experiences when planning a trip to Thailand, and Canadian tour operators are responding with new products.

“They have recognized the importance of experiential travel and have adapted their offerings accordingly,” she said. Those offerings include new opportunities to engage with local people and culture through cooking classes and volunteering, as well as the ever-popular elephant encounters and Thai massage.

The pre- and post-TTM+ FAM tours offered this year also highlighted a new focus on experiential travel, with activities such as street food tours in Bangkok and homestay experiences in Ayutthaya (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) offered for the first time.

Juthaporn Rerngronasa, acting TAT governor, highlighted some new developments in Thailand’s tourism offerings, including new boutique resorts (many of them represented on the trade show floor), a growing health and wellness travel segment, new homestay opportunities and an increasing number of visitors arriving by cruise ship. About 100,000 cruise visitors are recorded annually, and new cruise ship ports are planned for Krabi and Surat Thani. The acting governor also outlined planned improvements to Thailand’s airports, including an expansion that will double the capacity of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport – to 80 million passengers annually – by 2020.

Rerngronasa concluded her presentation by announcing Thailand’s retention of its number-two ranking (behind London) on the MasterCard Global Destinations Cities Index for 2015, released June 3.

In addition to Thailand, this year’s TTM+ included tourism representatives from all the countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion (which includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and China’s Yunnan Province), a move toward greater cooperation in anticipation of the greater connectivity in the region to come with the implementation of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community later this year.

“ASEAN will create more symmetry between the people of the region,” Rerngronasa said, adding multiple new bridges are planned that will make connections easier between Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

According to statistics provided at TTM+ by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 71,447 Canadians visited the country in the first quarter of 2015, a 6.62 per cent increase over the same period in 2014. While tourism was down slightly overall in 2014, more than 195,000 Canadians visited Thailand last year. The Conference Board of Canada predicts an average four per cent growth in the number of Canadian visitors to Thailand over the next several years.