11th June 2000

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Much more than a land of smiles

By Shelani de Silva

Thailand renowned as the land of smiles among thousands of visitors has once again launched an ambitious and successful tourist campaign for the year 2000. 'Amazing Thailand 2000' is a spectacular programme adapting a simple theme to entice the tourists caught up in a rat race in their Much more than a land of smilesown countries, to savour the natural environment and cultural heritage of Thailand.

Though the number of tourists passed the million mark in the first few months of this year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand will not relax, but strives to portray the country as a sanctuary of pleasure for tourists.

While the first 'Amazing Thailand' campaign was mainly based on the royal celebrations of the King's auspicious 72nd sixth-cycle birthday, 'Amazing Thailand 2000' seeks to build upon this by promoting the country's cultural heritage, culinary delights, shopping and recreational facilities.

With the slogan 'Enchantment for the next thousand years', it drives home the point that Thailand is the only country in the world to retain a traditional way of life. It is not only aimed at the thousands of foreign tourists but also Thais themselves.

The campaign attempts to encourage thais to preserve the country's treasures by recognising them as Much more than a land of smilessources of income.

The target is to attract about 8.8 million visitors to Thailand, each spending 2,000 to 3,000 baht, thus injecting about 3435 billion baht into the economy. This, the authorities believe, can be achieved, specially after visitor arrivals at Bangkok International Airport reached 1.21 million in January-February 2000, an increase of 8.76% over the same period last year. Even with rapid technological advances, the Thai way of life is unchanged and that is what the Tourism Authority is trying to exploit. From trekking and hiking in the mountains, the sunny beaches and glorious culture, to shopping are widely advertised.

A key feature on the calendar is the Grand Sale this month (June) when all leading department stores, shops and retail outlets in Bangkok and the other main cities offer discounts ranging from 15 to 80%.

This month-long shopping fiesta, the sixth of its kind, is organised by the Tourism Authority.

The sale will not only improve the main economy but also regional markets. June has been picked because a tourism slump has been seen in the past few years, and the authorities hope the sale will lure them to the country. The highlight this year would be the inauguration of the Sky Train, the overhead transit system, which will provide shoppers easy access to the malls. Such a sale is not surprising, for it is said that following the devaluation of the baht in 1997, increased spending by tourists helped maintain foreign exchange reserves. It has also made a significant contribution towards the recovery of the economy. The Deputy Governor for Marketing at the Tourism Authority, Patpong Abhijatapong said that of the budget allocation of a million baht for tourism, 70% is for advertising. "The marketing system is the key to a successful tourism drive. 'Amazing Thailand 2000' too shows the different and various choices the country offers visitors. Even if the country is blessed with natural forest, the sea and other attractions, there is no purpose if they are not marketed in the correct manner."

The success of mass tourism is believed to be largely due to political and economic stability. 

However, Mr. Abhijatapong conceded that it was difficult to break the visitor arrival numbers in Sri Lanka, especially of regulars who have been returning to that country for several years. "We have to target the new visitors. Sri Lanka has a good flow of visitors from Europe and other Scandinavian countries."

According to the Immigration Department, the Japanese topped the visitor-list in Thailand with 7.48%, during January and February. Next came the Chinese, the Koreans, the Germans and the Americans. Arrivals from major markets included East Asia (630,842), Europe (360,855), America (96,283), South Asia (43,522), Oceania (42,914), Middle East (26,705) and Africa (10,572).

The number of Group Tour visitors grew by 21.67% in 1999 over 1998 while independent visitors rose slightly by 3%. Men formed a bigger group of visitors than women though the latter numbers increased by a significant 13%, indicating the success of a strategy to attract women.

Meanwhile, the tourism industry will maintain its objective of ensuring an equal income distribution nationwide. A total of 415 festivals are to be organised at provincial level, with budgetary support from the Tourism Authority to facilitate this.

The aim of promoting Thailand as an "escape from the stressful, fast-moving world" through 'Amazing Thailand 2000' seems to be paying off, considering the number of tourists who are charmed by this land of smiles.

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