Career TAT officer rises up through the ranks to assume top post and says the industry will ride out the storm.
By Imtiaz Muqbil
The new governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Thawatchai Arunyik, takes over at a time of immense change in the internal and external forces buffeting the Thai tourism industry, but he is confident that the country’s underlying strengths and strong brand image will help to keep the industry growing well into the future.
Thailand is expected to record 26.1 million tourists, generating THB 1.1 trillion in 2013, and has set a 2014 target of 28.01 million, generating estimated foreign exchange revenue of THB 1.326 trillion. This is 13 percent over the projected figure for 2013. For the domestic market, TAT has set a target of 136.8 million trips, generating an estimated THB 700 billion for tourism income, up 9 percent over 2013.
Arunyik is very conscious of the fact that the state of flux in the Thai political scene is contributing to a level of uncertainty. However, he believes that effective tactical crisis management efforts, coupled with Thailand’s traditional strengths in terms of products, services, infrastructure, and hospitality, will help it to recover quickly.
He explains, “Regardless of which government comes to power in Thailand, they all have to make travel and tourism a priority because this industry has now become a major part of the solution in terms of job creation, economic development, distribution of income nationwide and the narrowing of the rich–poor income gap.
“Thailand also has another unique advantage, being geographically located in the heart of the ASEAN region. With the advent of the ASEAN integration process under the economic, socio-cultural, and political-security sectors, there is no doubt that Thailand will benefit no matter which way you cut it.”
Arunyik agrees that the new era will require a greater focus on managing growth. “All the hardware to create growth is in place. We have enough airline capacity, highway networks and border-crossing points to ensure continued flow of arrivals for years. However, balancing sustainability and marketing will become a very important part of our future strategies” he says.
Born in Phetchaburi province, Arunyik is the 9th governor of TAT. Graduating with a bachelor of science from the University of the East, Manila, Philippines, he joined TAT as a marketing officer in January 1983 and has worked his way up to senior postings both abroad and within Thailand.
His most recent posting as deputy governor for domestic marketing has given him an acute understanding of the importance of the huge potential of domestic tourism, which is a saving grace for the country, especially in times of unexpected downturns in foreign arrivals.
He said, “TAT has continuously promoted Thai tourism for 53 years. We are proud that tourism is today recognized as one of Thailand’s most successful industries. Billions of dollars worth of investment have poured into an industry which generates an average of 7 percent of our annual GDP. Nearly four million people are employed directly and indirectly in the tourism industry.
“About 70 percent of the tourism revenue benefits hospitality and tourism-related businesses outside Bangkok. This helps create more tourism-related jobs and disseminate revenue to the local people by boosting investment in rural areas as well as assisting thousands of Thai small and medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), which are the backbone of the country’s economy.”
According to Arunyik, “Tourism success has brought Thailand much international recognition and worldwide fame. Thailand is consistently ranked among the world’s leading travel and tourism destinations in international surveys, and our products and services win numerous awards every year. We are known for our natural and cultural attractions, heritage and hospitable people and a variety of value-for-money products and services. We have products, services and accommodation catering for all budgets and customer preferences.
“People come to Thailand to enjoy everything from getting a foot massage to a game of golf to a suntan. They come to learn how to cook Thai food or meditate or box Thai-style. It is travel and tourism, and travel and tourism alone, that creates jobs at the grassroots level of society, all around the country, from South Thailand to the North and Northeast.”
Arunyik cited the way visitor arrivals are changing with two source markets, China and Malaysia, now generating more than two million annual arrivals each. And four source markets—Japan, Russia, South Korea, and India—generating more than one million arrivals each.
Discussing the marketing plan, Arunyik said, “The core theme of the TAT Action Plan 2014 is ‘Higher Revenue through Thainess.’ This means emphasizing our unique selling proposition, which is the Charm of Thainess, especially the Thai Experience, Thai Way of Life, and Thai Culture. TAT will put more effort into increasing [the number of] first-time visitors and high spenders or luxury markets.”
The goal is to increase the share of middle and upper income tourists. TAT estimates that these groups of tourists comprise about 30 percent of all visitors to Thailand, with the potential to grow to 40 percent.
Arunyik added, “TAT also plans to narrow the gap in the ratio of first-time and repeat visitors, reduce congestion in the popular destinations and exert more efforts to promote emerging destinations in the provinces. All the strategies are in line with the national economic and social development objectives to better distribute income nationwide, create jobs in the rural areas, and create a more balanced and harmonious society.
The marketing messages will emphasize creative tourism, where tourists can participate in and learn about unique Thai experiences, such as Thai boxing, Thai massage, Thai cooking, and Thai classical dancing. Thai food and Thai local wisdom will also be used as unique selling propositions.”
He also noted the changes in the means and methods of communications for marketing strategies, especially the increasing role of digital marketing: “TAT understands the importance of not only having a highly visible presence in the online world, but also of producing and delivering content that is stimulating to our target markets, wherever they are.
“One example of our online footprint in the digital domain is The Little Big Project, a global digital marketing volunteer tourism competition we funded to inspire worldwide travellers to take a volunteer vacation in Thailand. The project ran from March to July 2013. This has given contestants an opportunity to do something meaningful while on holiday.
At the same time, there will be a core focus on niche markets, specifically golf, health and wellness, weddings and honeymoons, and green tourism. During this time of continuing economic uncertainty, we believe it is right to focus on these qualities and niche sectors of the market, as they are more likely to be “’recession proof.’”
Arunyik called on readers of Lookeast magazine to spread the word through their various social media channels that Thailand is peaceful, stable, and open for business.
He concluded, “Like any industry, the travel and tourism industry goes through its ups and downs. The good news is people all over the world want to travel and will continue to travel. Globalization, the Internet, and information technology are making people more aware of different cultures and societies. As long as people continue to travel, Thailand will continue to provide upgraded products and services at value-for-money prices to cater to whatever demand is out there.”