The Thai Travel Agents Association will host an election to designate its new president early next week. Outgoing President Suthipong Pheunphiphop is candidate to his own succession and speaks with TDN Asia about Thailand’s outbound market.
TravelDailyNews: Thailand has been experiencing political turbulences in recent months. Has the outbound travel market being affected?
Suthiphong Pheunphiphop : I must say that the outbound market from Thailand has so far been relatively resilient for our 800 members. Leisure travel showed growth since the beginning of the year. I expect that Thai will continue to travel until June. Then I expect a marked slowdown as elections will loom and uncertainties will remain. Travellers will then prefer to keep their money in case of potential problems. We have seen however decline in two markets: inbound has been badly affected by political turmoils in January and February, especially from Northeast Asia. And the corporate travel market is performing very badly due to the absence of a government. They are no trips for now organized for State institutions. Government’s trips can represent up to 20% of all business travel and this segment has disappeared overnight for now…
TDN: What are the winning destinations for Thailand’s outbound markets?
S.P.: Japan is a real hit, especially following the lifting of visa restrictions. In 2012, the total number of Thai travellers to Japan reached 260,000; in 2013 it reached already 480,000 and we now expect 700,000 travellers. We also see a real interest for Bhutan. The Bhutanese government is now launching a promotion for the low season by reducing the compulsory per diem fee of US$ 250 to US$ 60 between June and August for Thai travellers. The Bhutan government has also asked local airlines to reduce fares during that time by 50% as well as hotels to reduce their price.
Although Bhutan remains a niche market, there is a huge interest for the country due to strong relations between the two Kingdoms and a genuine interest for temples, culture and soft adventure tourism. I also predict a rising interest for North Korea as both Thailand and North Korea now study the way to boost Thai tourists arrivals to the country.
TDN: Which destinations would you deem as ‘not that fashionable’ in 2014?
S.P.: We have seen a slowdown in the interest of Thai towards South Korea, Malaysia or Vietnam. These countries need to reshuffle their approach to the Thai market with new exciting products. Travel agencies also have difficulties to sell Europe properly due to heavy visa regulations.
TDN: What do you think about the “free tour policy” implemented by some countries?
S.P.: I think that this is extremely detrimental to the quality of the tourism product but in a sense to the quality of the traveller himself. With certain countries proposing very cheap packages thanks to “0-Baht Tour” offered in return of shopping at selected shops, we see a “devaluation” of some countries’ image. One consequence is that tourists embarking into a “0-Baht Tour’ are unlikely to come back again to the country. We have also a duty to raise the quality of outbound travellers.
TDN: Do you think that travel agents are well prepared today to the new travel customer? How about the readiness of Thai Travel Agencies to the ASEAN Economic Community?
S.P.: We need to improve and train human resources of our industry to make travel agents more reactive to customers’ enquiries and wishes. And also to make these agents capable of becoming niche specialists in tourism. It has been a strong commitment during my time as a President to make travel agencies more efficient and self sufficient in ticketing, accounting, IT and sales. We conducted during the last two years training sessions and seminars for our members. Some 1,800 people have then taken a training course with us. With the arrival of the AEC, we must have also agents able to have a good knowledge of ASEAN and also able to advice better their customers. I will continue to emphasize better skills and knowledge for travel agents if I am reelected.