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Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, President Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA)

The Thai Travel Agents Association is hosting until the end of the week the TITF, Thailand’s largest international travel consumer fair. In its 11th year, the fair takes place at Queen Sirikit Conference Centre in Bangkok and is likely to see some 350,000 visitors. Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, President of the TTAA talks about the evolution of Thailand’s outbound market. TTAA has 700 members.

The Thai Travel Agents Association is hosting until the end of the week the TITF, Thailand’s largest international travel consumer fair. In its 11th year, the fair takes place at Queen Sirikit Conference Centre in Bangkok and is likely to see some 350,000 visitors. Suthiphong Pheunphiphop, President of the TTAA talks about the evolution of Thailand’s outbound market. TTAA has 700 members.

TravelDailyNews: How big is today Thailand’s outbound market?

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop: International outbound travel generated last year approximately 4.5 to 4.6 million departures of which 3.8 million are purely leisure. However, the market is progressing only moderately. The big boom was some 15 years ago around 1997 when leisure outbound suddenly jumped to three million departures. However, the economic crisis of the late nineties then Thailand’s political crisis or natural catastrophes dampened the demand.Despite the fact that outbound is growing year after year, I still estimate that we should now generate some 7 to 8 million outbound trips per year.

TDN: Where are Thais going today?

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop: There has been during the last decade a marked shift from long haul to medium haul travel. This is mostly due to the difficulty for Thais to obtain a visa on certain long haul destinations. Europe is one of the worst due to complicated visa procedure. But Australia lost also market shares due to expensive visa procedures and their physical withdrawal from the Thai market, following the closure of their representation office in Bangkok. China recently lost in popularity as the government tightened entrance conditions by requesting more information on income, itineraries etc… But destinations such as Korea, Japan and now Taiwan continue to enjoy increasing popularity. I especially predict that Japan is on the midst of a new boom out of Thailand as the Japanese government simplified entry procedures recently. Thai can now easily obtain a multiple-entry visa valid for three years. This has been accompanied by many marketing efforts of Japanese regions to Thailand.

TDN: Are Thais keener also to visit ASEAN countries?

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop: We see a growing number of Thais visiting Laos as more international border check points opened with the fourth bridge over the Mekong to be inaugurated this year! The Philippines are doing a big promotion effort which starts to bear its fruits while Indonesia is becoming more attractive despite the lack of direct flights to more destinations including Yogyakarta. However the ASEAN destination which is turning into a favourite for Thais is Myanmar. Thai travellers’ number is still small but it grew last year by 200% to 300%.

TDN: Thai travellers are sometimes perceived as a low quality market with interest limited only to food and shopping. How do you try to change this perception?

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop: I agree that many groups of Thai travellers are only interested with food and shopping with little emphasis given to culture. We try to change this pattern. We first do a lot of internal training and seminars to our agents by presenting destinations and showing new selling points for destinations. There is also a necessary training of tourist guides. I always recommend that our tourist guides work in partnership with local travel guides in countries to better embrace local cultures. If travel agents and guides are more aware of the destination they visit, they will certainly influence the way our customers will also travel…

TDN: Are Thai Travel Agents suffering from direct booking through internet and new IT tools?

Suthiphong Pheunphiphop: They definitely are! I estimate that we are losing already 25 to 30% of our clients who are now using direct booking tools for their ticket and accommodation. This trend is due to continue and I expect that overstaffed travel agencies might disappear as they are now losing revenues. We emphasize our members to go more into niche markets or getting more specialized into certain destinations, a way to offer a value-added service. We do also many training courses in marketing, e-ticketing to help our members. We however represent only 700 travel agencies in Thailand, just to be compared to an estimated total number of 5,000 agents selling international package tours….

Luc Citrinot

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.

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