Private sector praises soft power’s potential to attract tourists


Thailand's unique soft power, combined with the government's practical strategic promotion framework, has the potential to attract tourists from all over the world, according to various tourism industry executives and entrepreneurs.

The affirmation comes as Thailand’s government, led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, actively promotes the country’s soft power through food, film, fashion, fighting, and festivals.

His determination was evident when his government announced the establishment of the National Soft Power Strategy Committee, with a budget of 5.1 billion baht, a few weeks after taking office in August 2023.

Since then, several strategic policies and measures to promote Thailand's soft power have been proposed and implemented, including the recent mega-promotional plan for this year's Songkran festival.

Recognising the unique charm of Thailand's traditional culture, William Heinecke, founder of Minor International, one of the world's largest hospitality groups, expressed his full support for the Thai government's efforts to promote the country's tourism industry through its soft power.

During a media briefing earlier this year, he pointed out that Thailand's soft power has always been one of its flagships to attract tourists to stay longer in the country.

William Heinecke

He then cited Muay Thai training and the Songkran festival as examples.

Aside from the current promotions, he encouraged the Thai government to provide additional financial incentives to international film production houses and world-class concert organisers to choose Thailand as their location.

Private sector praises soft power’s potential to attract tourists

Thailand, he pointed out, already has a wide range of spectacular natural scenery, including beaches and mountains. Hence, a small push from the government is enough to entice international production crews and organisers to visit Thailand.

His suggestion came after HBO's popular series "The White Lotus" chose Thailand as its season three location.

"I believe that Thailand will be more widely recognised after the series airs in 2025, just like Hawaii and Italy," Heinecke said.

Meanwhile, he suggested that the government lower the barriers for foreigners seeking long-term or retirement visas in Thailand, consider tax breaks for domestic travel, and increase incentives for airlines to add more direct flights to Thailand.

Private sector praises soft power’s potential to attract tourists

Praising Prime Minister Srettha's government for its proactive measures and quick response, he expressed confidence that Thailand will meet its target of 33 million tourists this year, generating 1.5 trillion baht.

His comments were echoed by Group's vice president, Sun Tianxu.

She explained that after the Covid-19 pandemic, more Chinese tourists were prioritising quality over quantity, which means that instead of worrying about how many places they could visit, they are now focused on what new unique experiences they can enjoy from the location.

To meet that expectation, she noted that Thailand's soft power, such as its traditional culture, cuisine, and lifestyle, can play an important role in attracting these tourists.

Aside from convincing tourists to stay longer in Thailand, Sun saw that some of those soft power activities, such as the Songkran festival, would also encourage visitors to return.

(from left) Sun Tianxu, Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol and Thapanee Kiatpaiboon

Meanwhile, she pointed out that as more Chinese people adopt “Last-Minute Booking” behaviours, traditional unique cultures will assist the group in making an informed final decision, in addition to the government's visa-free policy for Chinese tourists.

Still, to attract more tourists to Thailand in the short term, she suggested that the Thai government host or organise a variety of events, such as world-class artist concerts.

She cited Taiwanese singer Jay Chou's December 2023 concert in Bangkok, which drew thousands of international fans to Thailand.

Noting that is now planning to promote more of Thailand's nightlife and secondary cities, Sun emphasised the importance of ensuring tourist safety, which is one of their top priorities when deciding which country to visit.

Private sector praises soft power’s potential to attract tourists

Her comments came as Prime Minister Srettha promised to grow the country's economy in a variety of ways, including facilitating international organisers to hold concerts or conferences in Thailand, even if the government has to sponsor the events.

Meanwhile, the government has recently pledged to improve its security backend system, database, and law enforcement to ensure tourist safety.

While agreeing that Thailand's soft power will be important in adding more meaningful value to the country's tourism industry, Sittiwat Chiwarattanaporn, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), believes it would be preferable to allow more private sector involvement.

He emphasised that because everything related to soft power will improve Thailand's image, discussing with local entrepreneurs at the planning level rather than simply asking for cooperation will help explore the best solution to promote one soft power that is appropriate for each local context.

Private sector praises soft power’s potential to attract tourists

The comment is consistent with the Tourism Council of Thailand, which recently proposed three strategic practical frameworks to promote the country's tourism nationwide and increase tourist spending per capita.

The council president, Chamnan Srisawat, pointed out that Thailand's local soft power would play an important role in levelling up the country's tourism industry to increase time spent in Thailand and spending per capita.

However, for soft power to truly benefit the country, local entrepreneurs must be engaged.

Private sector praises soft power’s potential to attract tourists

According to Euromonitor International's recent World's Top 100 City Destinations in 2023 survey, consumers are increasingly looking for value-for-money travel propositions when booking travel. This, in turn, will increase consumer demand for intraregional travel, particularly since travel purchases are often discretionary.

"Travellers will continue to favour authentic and local experiences in addition to sustainable tourism alternatives," the report said.