By SPECIAL TO THE NATION
Hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the summit is billed as the most influential travel and tourism event of the year, and it brings together hundreds of leaders from public-sector organisations and private companies to discuss the most important issues in the tourism sector.
THAILAND has always been smart when it comes to meeting the needs of visitors, from the 1960s when the tourism industry in the Kingdom was taking off to the present day.
The sector is now one of the strongest pillars of the Thai economy, contributing Bt1.46 trillion to gross domestic product in 2015, which was twice the combined value of the country’s second- and third-largest export items.
In the same year, tourism generated 11.3 million employment opportunities, and it is forecast to account for almost 14 million jobs in 2017. Thailand’s ability to harness its huge attributes for marketing purposes has made it the envy of many.
The millions of visitors who come here each year are dazzled by the beauty of Thailand’s landscapes, the depth of our culture and cuisine, and the warmth and hospitality of our greatest asset: the Thai people.
Yet while these factors will always be integral to our marketing strategies, the TAT is aware of the need to get even smarter to meet the changing requirements of the digital age while capitalising on the core qualities of our country.
Our long-term goal is to move the industry from offering “value for money” to “value for experience”. We will focus on creating valuable and memorable experiences for quality tourists by creating valuable tourism products and upgrading product standards. This will mean greater emphasis on promoting creative tourism through Thai culture, experiences and way of life.
It is therefore paramount that we ensure that digital innovation is central to our efforts, consistent with the “Thailand 4.0” strategy that gears towards a value-based economy, incorporating smart devices, Internet of Things technology and creativity, as well as culture and high-value services.
Digital technology has revolutionised global tourism. Around the world, people are using their smartphones to do everything from paying for services and booking restaurants to seeking directions to tourism attractions and searching for hotels. Meanwhile, industries rooted in the sharing economy, such as Airbnb, Uber and Grab, have altered the previous rules of the game.
When you consider these and other advances, such as the proliferation of social-media networks and Internet platforms, the need for nimble thinking and coherent digital strategies has never been clearer.
I am proud to say that Thailand has established itself as a regional leader in efforts to deploy smart ways of marketing its tourism products.
Our new-look websites feature a responsive design that reflects our intention to offer all the information and functionality required by travellers who wish to plan a trip to Thailand, or to learn the latest news and updates on our travel and hospitality industry.
Each year, our official portal (tourismthailand.org) receives hundreds of millions of views, while our social-media outreach, which includes Facebook and Twitter among others, is also widely checked.
Additionally, we have earned widespread praise for digital initiatives, such as our global marketing campaign to promote volunteer tourism, which was one of the winners of the first Digital Innovation Asia Awards in 2013.
Despite these successes, we are acutely aware of the need to keep pace with the almost daily advances in digital technology and the way that users interact with it. We are living in a time of rapid, unprecedented change, and it is vital that we keep ourselves ahead of this dynamic curve.
A recent study by online payment provider PayPal found that 29 per cent of travel businesses in the Kingdom had no mobile presence. With smartphone ownership in Thailand expected to reach 100 per cent within four years, we will continue to emphasise the benefits of digital thinking to businesses.
We must be fully aware of how technology has affected tourists’ behaviour and exploited it for marketing purposes. Few tourists now carry guidebooks, as everything is accessible from their mobile phones.
The emergence of sharing industries has totally changed the tourism landscape around the world. These and other developments are fundamental shifts that highlight the need for us to stay cognisant of technological changes that affect the behaviour of visitors. As travellers evolve, so must we.
Today’s digital traveller demands simplicity, convenience and trust like never before. By continuing to harness digital technology to meet these fluid requirements we can ensure a future for Thailand’s tourism industry that is not only bright, but smart as well.
YUTHASAK SUPASORN is governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.