An informal gathering, organized by DSB (Diplomatic Spouses Budapest), was recently hosted at the Residence of the Royal Thai Embassy, bringing Thailand and Laos into the focal point of interest.
Over the last decade, tourist arrivals in the Asia-Pacific region rose at a more intensive rate than most parts of the world, almost twice the rates of industrialized countries. Every projection indicates this trend will continue for the next decade and beyond, contributing to the dynamic development of the region as a whole. Although the stage of tourism growth and development “life cycle” differs substantially from one country to another, all countries in Southeast Asia and Indochina are to tackle similar challenges: fostering financially and environmentally sustainable tourism has remained a common concern.
With over 30 spouses of Heads and Deputy Heads of Mission and of International Organization accredited to Hungary, a get-together was organized at the Residence of the Royal Thai Embassy in March 2012 to promote friendship and understanding amongst cultures by introducing a “new direction” for tourism development, marketing and management in Thailand and Laos. Hosted by Korbkiat Kraichitti, wife of the Ambassador of Thailand, the event concentrated on how tourism to Thailand is being enhanced as a result of a sequence of innovative marketing strategies with highly ambitious target.
Rudolf Sárdi, Managing Director of Lao Airlines GSA for Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria, and Corporate Publicity Manager of China Airlines GSA – accompanied by Sales Manager of Aviation GSA Co., Ilona Diószegi – attended the event as a guest speaker, in which role he attempted to shed further light on the novel prospects Southeast Asia has envisioned as of late. “Tourism statistics from Hungary to Thailand and its neighboring countries has risen significantly over the last two years as a growing number of travel agencies and tour operators, with the overwhelming and enthusiastic support of the Royal Thai Embassy, have been successfully publicizing the region amongst Hungarians and building bridges between the two countries in a number of areas. ”Several of Southeast Asia’s tourism markets have realized that various strategies ought to be implemented in order to boost tourism and maintain it at a stable level. Ambassador of Thailand Krit Kraichitti had previously emphasized that there was a need for “a more balanced tourism in different dimensions and a sustainable growth for tourism income should be provided. Strengthening and sharpening Thailand’s brand image and developing tourism in line with a creative economy will become an absolute necessity in order to make Thailand an even more alluring destination and a center of air transport.”
Thailand: a destination and a gateway
Thailand has promoted itself both efficiently and successfully as an international destination and earned a reputation for being the gateway to other Indochinese countries. During the past decade the world has experienced immense geopolitical changes, wherein the role of political barriers has become that of a line of integration rather than simply a barrier to interaction. Liberalization of trade policies, the easing of travel restrictions by many countries, and international cooperation in economic development are at the forefront of these shifts in political ideologies. These changes have had significant impacts on international tourism, and helped to open new doors to those travelers and business people who choose to visit any Southeast Asian country. In his presentation, Sárdi emphasized – in line with the strategic vision previously reiterated by Ambassador Kraichitti – that conducting collaborative destination marketing activities amongst the countries in the region have proved effective in achieving the aforementioned goals. While some voices in the travel industry are in pursuit of a new slogan after year of using “Amazing Thailand” as a tagline, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) believes that the well-known sentence will continue to act as a strong magnet in catching traveler’s attention. In 2012, the “Amazing Thailand Always Amazes You” theme will undoubtedly reinforce the strong brand and position of the kingdom. Among markets being targeted, TAT intends to focus on high-income markets, niche travelers (honeymooners, medical and health visitors), repeat travelers, or emerging countries such as Indonesia, Brazil or Argentina.
Tourism in Southeast Asia: cooperation vs. competition
Tourism in Southeast Asia began to evolve as early as the 1960s when the stable political atmosphere in Thailand created a strong awareness of the country’s reputation in the region. Sárdi remarked that “Thailand has remained ever since the brightest ‘star’ among the oft-visited nations in Southeast Asia and has also assumed a very pragmatic appeal, too. This is because Bangkok has become a crossroads of international air transport.” The mythical appeal of Bangkok as a megalopolis, where modernity mingles with the traditional, the numerous historical, natural and cultural sites in its vicinity are still high on the must-visit list for the majority of travelers. While Thailand is regarded as a destination in its own right, it is also the country that serves as a gateway to its many neighbors, including Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Sárdi said that “flying to Bangkok is not only affordable for most Western travelers, but there is hardly an airline on the European and Near Eastern market that does not operate several weekly frequencies to Thailand. The reason why Thailand can still preserve its role as an excellent entry point into Southeast Asia is also due to the fact that most airlines offer reasonable airfares, have regular promotions, provide good connectivity, and most importantly, and visa-free entry is available for many nationalities.” While currently no direct scheduled air service is offered from Hungary to Southeast Asia, dozens of air carriers offer flights via European and Near Eastern airports.
Ambassador Kraichitti has voiced time and again that “Southeast Asia is an immense region, which will continue to provide new growth for airlines, enhancing good cooperation with one another and allowing newcomers to penetrate the market. Qatar Airways has played an instrumental role recently in helping to bring East-Central Europe and Asia closer to one another with its daily direct frequencies between Budapest and Doha. Additionally, Thai Airways, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Swiss Air Lines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Lufthansa, KLM and Air France, British Airways, Finnair, Aeroflot, Aerosvit and a number of other international carriers operate flights to Bangkok and beyond. It is especially importance for us to recognize that these airlines, alongside many others, work efficiently to offer convenient connections and the best available fares.” Sárdi mentioned in his presentation that “of all the airlines serving Southeast Asia, China Airlines is a relatively new product in the Hungarian market, securing direct connection from Amsterdam to Bangkok, offering reasonable fares and flexible conditions with points of connection in Europe and Taipei (Taiwan) as its hub.”
Thailand has realized over the years that stimulating growth can only be attained if all the rapid changes – such as new emerging markets, social media, the attractive features of the neighboring countries, as well as a global-scale increasing demand for sustainable tourism and “edutourism” – are also take into consideration. It is for this reason that Ambassador Kraichitti constantly emphasizes that cooperation as opposed to competition should be fostered, allowing Thailand to endorse long-term objectives and common goals of the other countries in Southeast Asia, which will be beneficial to the region as a whole. In addition connecting the countries of Southeast Asia, one must not fail to notice the “Thainess” of the country; travelers should learn to appreciate its diverse traditions, inimitable gastronomic delights, memorable festivals – one of these being the Songkran festival in mid-April – as well as its famous sense of welcome, which has been attracting travelers from all around the world.
Laos: the land of unknown treasures
In his presentation, Sárdi commented that “Laos – officially known as Lao People’s Democratic Republic – is one of the countries that can be considered as an excellent choice both in terms of complementing a trip to Thailand and as a destination in its own right. Isolated and undeveloped as it was until the turn of the millennium, Laos has earned the reputation of being an economically evolving nation, which, at the same, takes pride in having preserved Southeast Asia’s most pristine natural and cultural environments virtually intact.” Laos is known to have grown substantially in recent years, and the country now receives over two million tourists annually. The country, which gained its independence in 1975, has been attracting visitors from all over the world due to its gradually developing ecotourism, the beauties of its former royal capital Luang Prabang, and the numerous religious sites it can offer. Lao gastronomy is also well-known in the region.
As Lao Airlines, the nation’s flagship carrier, opened its Budapest-based office in 2010, tourist arrivals from East-Central Europe have also increased. Although Lao Airlines only flies within Southeast Asia, its international network is continually expanding, and the new Vientiane-Singapore route is more than likely to boost tourism coming from Europe as well. It is also interesting to note that China has recently laid out a plan to extend its high speed rail network into northern Laos, the first leg of a line that will ultimately terminate in Singapore. In order to economically link the countries of Southeast Asia, Laos will prove to an excellent hub of transportation, both passenger and cargo. This new connection also hopes to contribute to the GDP growth of Laos. In the next five years, the Southeast Asian country will be expecting a 15-20 percent growth in our GDP, which can further increase peace and stability in the nation. Next to Thailand or Vietnam, Laos is an easy stretch of track to build and could serve as a demonstration that China is making good on its vision of a connected continent. Also, in 2012 Laos will host the ASEM Summit, and a number of international conferences will be organized in Vientiane Capital, contributing the international standing of the small Southeast Asian country. 2012 has been officially proclaimed as “Visit Laos Year” by the Lao Government, gradually revealing more and more of the rich history and natural wonders of the country that was shrouded in mystery before the advent of the new millennium.
Cooperation between Thailand and Laos has been traditionally characterized as close and effective as the two countries constantly looked for ways to promote their development in all fields to further increase the popularity and marketability of the region. Hopes are high that the number of Hungarians traveling to Southeast Asia will continue rising, and as a consequence of newly designed national marketing action plans more of the undiscovered, hitherto unseen treasures of Southeast Asia will expose themselves.