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Luzi Matzig – CEO, Asian Trails: «We look at growing Asian markets to compensate Europe’s gloom»

Luzi Matzig, the CEO of Asian Trails, one of the most important incoming tour operators for Thailand and Asia region in general, talks to TravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific about the crisis in Europe and the potential of the Asian markets.

In less than 15 years, Asian Trails has become one of Southeast Asia’s leading inbound tour operator with over 250,000 clients per year. The company employs 600 people and has 33 offices in nine countries around Asia. Luzi Matzig, the company’s CEO, looks at the perspective offered by Asian markets today.

Despite the economic crisis in Europe- your main source markets-, how is Asian Trails doing this year?

Luzi Matzig: Surprisingly, we are doing extremely well with arrivals to most markets moving into the positive field. Vietnam and of course Myanmar outperform this year but Thailand is also doing extremely well. We only see a slowdown in demand to Cambodia, due maybe to a saturation effect. We are of course looking at compensating the weakness of European markets. All markets in Europe are down sharply compared to last year, except for Switzerland and France, which just maintains more or less its position. But we want now to target more inbound travellers from India and China.

India is a fairly new market to you. How do you succeed so far?

Luzi Matzig: We hired for China already three nationals. India has also an enormous potential but this is a difficult market to assess. They are strong in negotiations and tourists needs are very specific. We then hired an Indian national to deal with the market. After two years into the Indian market, we will reach 10,000 clients from the sub-continent, a pretty positive evolution! Indians are coming here, especially for the good value for money they will find in Thailand. For example, India’s wedding market is booming because it is cheaper to organize a ceremony here than in any place in India. In the near future, we are also looking at Indonesians. Just imagine that 5% of Indonesians are well off related to a population of 240 million people! It is a big potential, isn’t it?

As a tour operator mostly specialized in incoming European markets, is it not to difficult to adjust to Chinese and Indian demand?

Luzi Matzig: We are fully flexible. We provide them whatever customers want. This is absolutely not a problem. Europeans are today a mature market and they look very much for an à-la-carte package which provides them with a lot of freedom. Of course in the case of Indians, we have to plan from the first minute after they arrive at the airport until the last minute when they take back their plane. For Chinese, I am looking at the upper 10% of individuals with money and curiosity to do something different. We aim also for the Chinese MICE market. But we definitely don’t want to be involved into these cheap package tours only funded through shopping commissions.

What are the best performing countries in the region?

Luzi Matzig: This is definitely Myanmar but with this enormous problem of solving hotel capacity problems. Prices increase a lot and it will at least two or three years before the situation really improves. Vietnam is also a hit to us. People are attracted of course by the landscapes and the culture. But they now also discover Vietnam as a beach paradise. The country has more and more luxurious resorts along beautiful unspoilt beaches. We classically organize 10-days North-South overland tour in 10 days. But we see also people doing a two days-one night boat trip on the Mekong River Delta or from Saigon to Siem Reap. Cruise is in fact a fast developing product in the region.

Thailand represents 50% or more of your business. How do you explain Thailand success?

Luzi Matzig: Thailand’s success is really simple. This country offers everything the tourist needs. Service is good, people generally friendly, hotels are plentiful and very reasonably priced, food, entertainment, shopping are everywhere. Thailand tourism is growing on its own and does not need any support from official institutions. Thailand tourism is just like milk and honey! would rather like to see TAT or the Ministry better intervene to curb problems of cheating or behaving badly towards travellers than anything else. Let us just conduct our business properly…

Which evolution do you foresee in your activity as a tour operator?

Luzi Matzig: Social network and booking online are changing the way this industry works. Everyone now tries to undercut tour operators and sell direct. Airlines started, hotels move in the same direction today. We will survive if we can bring an added value and the fact that we can help combining all travellers request. We currently work on a B2C website for our clients.

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Luc Citrinot a French national is a freelance journalist and consultant in tourism and air transport with over 20 years experience. Based in Paris and Bangkok, he works for various travel and air transport trade publications in Europe and Asia.