He looks rather shy with his soft-spoken voice and courteous manners. However, Surahon Svetasreni, 56 years old, is not a newcomer to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Previous to his new position at the head of TAT, Mr. Svetasreni held the post of deputy governor for public relations, then marketing communication, as well as policy and planning. And if Svetasreni is mild-mannered, he has some clear ideas about which direction TAT will take over the next months to come.
“I come at a time where we start to experience a strong recovery of our markets,” he said on his first day as TAT governor. “We have seen a turn-around in the last quarter of 2009 with arrivals surging even by 74 percent in December 2009 compared to December 2008 [a result due to the closure of Bangkok Airport for 10 days]. We now foresee 14 million international travelers in 2009, a decline of 4 percent over 2008. Earlier last year, we were not even sure to reach 12.5 million tourists,” said Svetasreni.
TAT now anticipates a recovery in 2010, hoping to see total foreign arrivals rising again to 15 or 15.5 million, the equivalent of a growth of 7 percent to 10 percent.
“We are reasonably optimistic for this year as long as we are not exposed to any new turbulence,” said the new TAT governor.
TAT is particularly confident to see a strong rebound from northeast Asia, as well as from neighboring countries. The tourism agency is dividing its key markets into three groups. Group 1 comprises the most resilient markets such as ASEAN, south Asia, France, the UK, Holland, Iran, Kuwait, and Jordan. Flights from these countries are likely to increase in 2010. Niche products such as wedding, medical, agro, or golf tourism will be used to reinforce Thailand’s appeal. Group 2 comprises countries which continue to remain among Thailand top markets despite an expected stagnation or slight decline in 2010. Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, and Vietnam are included in group 2. TAT wants to target in these markets high-end travelers and stimulate the non-seasonal leisure market. Finally, group 3 comprises northeast Asia, the Americas, Singapore, and the UAE, and this group is expected to recover to a normal level after dropping considerably last year. TAT will continue to highlight high value for money in those markets in 2010.
“The ‘Amazing Value’ tag under our main brand ‘Amazing Thailand’ will still be relevant this year, as many countries are only slowly emerging from recession. However, we will track more accurately new trends and changes in consumers’ habits thanks to a newly-established tourism analysis center,” explained Svetasreni.
The new governor is far keener to use social media and e-tools to enhance the attraction of the kingdom abroad.
“We are reshaping our web tools to integrate new media such as Twitter or Facebook. We want travelers to Thailand to be more actively involved into the shaping of our web content by updating our site with their own experiences and advices,” said Mr. Svetasreni.
Social media is also a way to make TAT promotion more effective despite a limited growth in the agency budget.
“Our total budget is up by 1.9 percent to US$138 million for 2010. However, half of the money is affected to administration purposes, which requests us to be even more effective in our marketing expenses,” added TAT’s new governor.
New offices are planned next year in China, especially in Kunming and Chengdu. However, other TAT representations could be merged or even closed following a review of all activities at overseas offices.
Looking at promoting destinations, Svetasreni is also looking to promote new alternative destinations to well-established tourist spots such as Chiang Mai or Phuket.
“We must encourage travelers to venture to new areas, as I believe that many regions offer high standard products to travelers. Khao Yai or Pachong in Nakhon Ratchasima province, Wang in Saraburi are identified as new destinations for eco tourism. Svetasreni is even ready to promote more the deep south, embattled in violence over the last five years. We could first promote local and regional tourism to Pattani or Narathiwat and also multiply media trips to show that the situation is not as bad as most people think of in this region,” estimated TAT Governor.