Thai tourist groups de-emphasizing western markets for 2011

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Hotels association official says developing markets more important

Regional tourism-promotion groups say they no longer are prioritizing Pattaya’s traditional tourist base and will instead develop new markets in the Middle East and Asia to replace lost visitors from the West.

Thanet Supornsahatrangsi, vice president of the Thai Hotels Association Eastern Chapter, said the Pattaya Business & Tourism Association, Pattaya Tourism Club, Tourism Association of Thailand and the Chonburi provincial government are intent on turning Pattaya into a new choice for visitors from Turkey, Israel, Indonesia and Vietnam. At the same time, more effort will be put into building the already strong Russian, Indian and Chinese markets.

Thanet Supornsahatrangsi. Thanet Supornsahatrangsi.

“This year’s marketing plan will not emphasize only old markets, but push for new markets,” he said. “Those from countries such as Israel and Turkey have high purchasing power and economic figures show South Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia also growing by 8-10 percent, making them interesting markets with strong potential as well.”

While the United States, United Kingdom and Europe are responsible for making Pattaya a major tourist attraction, Thanet – a consultant to the Pattaya Business & Tourism Association – said he believes lingering concern over Thailand’s tenuous political situation and unfavorable exchange rates will continue to make marketing in the West challenging. Yet he also dismissed places like Australia, with its relatively stronger currency, saying Pattaya never has and likely never will be as popular as Koh Samui or Phuket for those from Down Under.

Thailand’s foreign tourist numbers have been suffering for more than two years. In 2008, months of street protests followed by a 10-day shutdown of the country’s main international airports destroyed the country’s image as a peaceful, convenient destination. Deadly riots that left more than 70 people dead last year ruined the country’s reputation for safety. World recession and a skyrocketing currency nearly put the final nails in the tourism industry’s coffin.

But Thanet said visitor numbers have bounced back since October, although still pale in comparison to years earlier. He credited programs such as the “Pattaya Grand Sale” promotion and a string of scheduled events and festivals with again filling hotel rooms.

However, now that the political crisis has ebbed, money for tourism promotion is in short supply. Thanet urged government officials to realize the job is not complete and more money is needed. China is a good example why, he said. Visits from this major Pattaya tourist market are still down almost 30 percent.

Other factors also concern the hotels chief, such as the steady erosion of Pattaya Beach and the slow approach public officials are taking to fix it.