Thailand almost hit a milestone of 30 million visitors in 2015, only shy of 100,000 visits. But with 2016, halfway through, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is banking on its rich culture, young travelers and a local superstar to surpass the mark.
TAT director Kajorndet Apichartrakul said at the sidelines of an event on Saturday, August 6 that young travelers or millennials only stand for 25 percent of their total tourist visits, and hope to increase the number to 30 by the end of the year.
“Normally, we don’t target the young generation, especially because we believe they’re part of the family [market],” Apichartrakul told Entrepreneur.com.ph. “But right now, we’re going deep into the details on how to tap this market since they have great potential, especially with how they share everything in social media.”
A 2012 study of the World Youth Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation revealed that young travelers (aged 23 to 30) now represent 20 percent of total tourism figures worldwide, spending US$217 billion in the same year.
However, Apichartrakul is aware of how restless millennials can become, thus the agency chose Thai superstar Mario Maurer as its newest travel ambassador to reach more youth.
“The youth easily change their lifestyles, that’s why we try to get the help of someone else for this,” Apichartrakul said.
The TAT Director said it hopes to lure at least a portion of Maurer’s fan base with a total social media following of almost 16 million. In the Philippines alone, the actor has an estimated 500,000 fans, according to Apichartrakul.
But these efforts are already leveraging on the recent string of successes of the agency after the positive response on “Discover Thainess” campaign in 2015. The tourism director said the country saw a 20 percent increase in visits after its launch, with most tourists coming from China at eight million for the year alone.
“The campaign is a sub-theme of ‘Amazing Thailand’ which has been used for the last 20 years. What makes experience Thainess unique is it represents not only our destinations but our culture,” Apichartrakul added.
For this year, they added another “ingredient” for their tourism efforts with the “Experience Thailand” campaign which aims to highlight Thai food, culture and people with an increased focus on local activities.
“Before, we just promote our tourist spots, but now we encourage tourists to try Muay Thai or some cooking class,” Apichartrakul said. “The locals themselves are thinking of things they can offer to tourists. It helps that we are already hospitable in nature.”
Thailand’s famous tuktuk, a local mode of transportation almost similar to the tricycles of the Philippines, is now also made more tourist-friendly. TAT collaborated with some localities to curate special tours for foreigners while on the vehicle.
The TAT is not turning a blind eye on some safety concerns, too. Late last year, the Thai government imposed harsher penalties for cheating taxi drivers, especially those who trick foreigners with heftier fares. Penalties can go as far as having their licenses revoked.
“Right now, we don’t just want tourists to focus on destinations and sights,” Apichartrakul said. “We want them to realize that they can be part of our culture, too.”
Elyssa Christine Lopez is Entrepreneur.com.ph's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz.