News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Nondhanada Intarakomalyasut, Bangkok Post, Thailand
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 18, 2004 - Thailand's bid to attract Americans for long-stay tourism must overcome the perception that the country is dirty, polluted and traffic-congested, according to research conducted by California State University.
Based on the results of a questionnaire sent to 6,000 retirees and young high-income professionals in the US, the top concern of Americans about Thailand is cleanliness. Out of the total sample, some 655 completed the survey, for a 11.3 percent response rate.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) hired a group of researchers from the Transnational executive MBA programme at California State University to conduct research on how to attract more long-stay American tourists to the country.
Kim Smith, one of the members of the research team and a business development manager at Hertz Corp in the US, said most Americans responding to the questionnaires seem to have developed a mistaken perception about Thailand, and in particular, Bangkok.
Therefore, the TAT should emphasise the country's cleanliness as well as address safety concerns.
This negative perception needs to be changed through a promotional campaign aimed at target groups and independent travel agents in the US, she said.
Moreover, the country should position itself as a "high value" long-stay destination, said Ms Smith, offering five-star quality at three-star prices.
She said the move would not create the image of the country as a cheap destination, but as a luxurious -- yet affordable -- place to visit, compared to other long-stay destinations like the UK where the cost of living is very high.
At the same time, Thailand should capitalise on its cultural diversity, climate, heritage and natural attractions.
However, the promotional campaign should be more specific, with an emphasis on target groups, she said.
More importantly, the TAT should promote long-stay programmes through major sales channels like the Internet, travel agents and retiree communities in the US.
She said the TAT could establish a sales group charged with informing US travel agents about long-stay travel.
Other key issues for long-stay tourism, she said, involve visa and immigration procedures as well as clarification on the rights of foreigners to buy or lease property in the kingdom.
She said that Mexico, another preferred destination for Americans, offers six-month tourist and retiree visas.
Currently, Thailand attracts about 555,000 visitors from the US each year, of whom about 10 percent are long-stay tourists.
If the above issues can be satisfactorily addressed, she said, Thailand could achieve at least 6 percent growth in long-stay-visitor numbers.
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(c) 2004, Bangkok Post, Thailand. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. F,