Bangkok - Thailand's six-million-strong Muslim population and growing range of Muslim-friendly products and services are playing an important role in catering to the rising number of tourists and visitors from all around the world, a group of Thai-Muslim travel professionals have noted.
Speaking at an exclusive resinar (newly-coined shorthand for "research" and "seminar") held at the PATA Engagement hub on 04 July 2017, the industry executives agreed that this role would increase significantly in future as the ASEAN integration process advances and Thailand seeks to better position itself as a hub for Halal food and cuisine.
The speakers included Dr Pakorn Piyakorn, Director, Halal Standards Institute of Thailand; Mr. Sanya Saengboon, General Manager, Al Meroz Hotel; Mr. Adam Phadungsilp, Resident Manager, Nouvo City Hotel; and Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor, Travel Impact Newswire. The event was organised by Travel Impact Newswire.
The speakers pointed out that in terms of popularity as a destination for Muslim visitors, Thailand is ranked just under Singapore amongst the non-member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation but has enormous potential to overtake its ASEAN neighbour if proper marketing strategies and training programmes are undertaken.
The resinar was opened by PATA CEO Mr Mario Hardy who noted the Association's growing involvement with the Islamic world, including a range of PATA events in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Maldives, and rising membership from the Middle East countries.
Travel Impact Newswire's Imtiaz Muqbil noted that promoting Muslim-friendly travel to Thailand was in line with the desire of Thailand's revered late monarch His Majesty King Bhumibhol to build an inclusive society for all Thais. It would also contribute to the process of ASEAN integration as cited in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint.
As of the April 2017 flight schedule, Thailand had more than 730 weekly flights from cities in 17 Muslim-majority countries, more than any other country in Asia. It also gives visa-free and/or visa-on-arrival facilities to citizens of 12 Muslim-majority countries. Visitors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the top average daily spenders, according to 2015 statistics published by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The Halal Standard Institute's Dr Pakorn noted that work was under way to finalise a common certification system for Thailand's growing number of hotels, restaurants and other products and services seeking to cater to Muslim clientele. This was being organised in cooperation with the Halal Science Center, Chulalongkorn University, which Dr Pakorn said was one of the world's best certification bodies for Halal products.
The two hoteliers, Mr Sanya and Mr Adam, provided some interesting personal and professional experiences on managing and delivering the customer experience.
Both said that positioning their respective properties as being Muslim-friendly was proving a success, contrary to conventional wisdoms. They said their hotels enjoyed enormous support from non-Muslim visitors such as the Chinese, Koreans and Europeans, the Royal Thai government, the United Nations agencies in Bangkok, sports organisations, as well as Islamic embassies, airlines and associations.
Even their status as alcohol-free hotels is welcomed by family travellers from all continents. Guests are impressed with the high level of service, cleanliness, attention to detail and the congenial, multi-cultural atmosphere.
The seminar concluded with the observation that the Thai tourism industry has many good stories to tell about the growing contribution of its Thai-Muslim ethnic population to the success of its travel & tourism industry.
Further such events are being planned to build on the success of this inaugural event.
Photo caption: Participants in the resinar: The speakers are: Prof Pakorn (front row, centre), Mr Sanya (front row, fourth from right), and Mr Adam, Mr Muqbil and Mr Hardy (back row, respectively third, fourth and fifth from right). Other participants included representatives from the Dusit and Anantara groups, the Landmark, Asia Hotel, Baiyoke Sky Suites, and three PATA interns