The popularity of gourmet eating and cooking tours in Italy and
France has boosted visitor arrivals to those already popular
countries in recent years.
Can a similar interest in Thai cuisine do the same for the
somewhat more exotic destination?
Satays and spring rolls might not be enough to draw visitors all
the way across the ocean, but the popularity of Pad Thai doesn't
hurt business, according to Jeannie Radek, manager of Travel in the
Main in Evanston, Ill.
Radek should know: Her specialties are Thailand and cooking, and
she has used both to draw clients to that country and to her
"I first saw the interest in Thailand increase in 1987, which
was 'Visit Thailand Year' in honor of the king's 60th birthday,"
promotion was launched by the country's tourism board and comprised
print ads and a host of special events, orchestrated with the help
of a public relations firm.
One of those events was a cooking demonstration, which Radek was
invited to provide at a local Williams-Sonoma store by the tourism
"My agency was exposed to clients that way, and also it exposed
Thailand to a few more people," she said.
Originally from Thailand and a former cooking instructor, Radek
is not a food snob and offers a relaxed approach to clients who ask
for restaurant suggestions in her homeland.
"I just tell them that you can't find a bad restaurant in
Thailand if you try, and the unknown places are usually the best,"
Radek does not confine her destination knowledge to matters of
the palate, however, offering in-depth information on everything
from rugged safaris to luxurious honeymoon locations.
"I can arrange trekking in the north, for example, where people
can interact with the hill tribes, ride elephants and go bamboo
rafting over the rapids," she said.
She noted that while clients should be fit to embark on this
type of adventure, they don't have to be athletes.
"These are low hills, and the hiking is more like walking," she
By contrast, honeymooners can stay at the upscale Amanpuri
boutique hotels, where they can relax or try their hand at scuba
diving along the carefully preserved limestone reefs.
Add in surprisingly low air fares and a favorable exchange rate,
and you have a destination that makes you lick your chops.
It is impossible to listen to Jeannie Radek of In the Main
Travel, based in Evanston, Ill., talk about Thailand without
wanting to go there.
And this, she would argue, is the point: Her extensive knowledge
of the subject is what sells it.
Radek, who owned her own agency for 10 years before joining In
the Main, touts the other agents in her office, all of whom have
specialties, but notes that becoming a destination specialist is
not a one-shot deal.
"Attending a seminar or obtaining a certificate doesn't make you
a specialist," Radek said.
"I go to Thailand every
year to make sure the hotels are up to standard, and I explore the
areas most people don't know about," she said.
A case in point is an area in the northeast where she "talked
some people into going" because of recent dinosaur discoveries.
"You can go there and watch them dig," she said. "This isn't
even in the brochures yet."
Radek said selling her former agency enabled her to concentrate
on her specialty, and she specializes in offering customized
"I do use tour operator packages for clients who want to visit
Thailand for a week and see the general sites," she said.
She markets her expertise via ads in the Yellow Pages under the
heading Thailand Travel and Tours.
Is it cruise fire-sale time?
I was driving home last night in a good mood. I had the top
down, it was a balmy summer night and I was listening to the news
on the radio.
A lead story was delivered by a nearly breathless reporter
explaining that cruise lines had overbuilt and there is now a
sudden excess of cruise berths resulting in a real "buyer's
An executive at Travel Services International explained that his
firm was selling one-week cruises for $499. The story left the
listener with the impression that cruise prices are at an all-time
is there is some current overcapacity, and we are approaching the
fall, a time when cruise lines normally have excess capacity.
But what is different this year is that the consumer is being
told there are all sorts of deals in the marketplace. You need to
tune in to that perception. Here are some strategies you might want
to implement to ride this wave:Announce an "all-lines sale" lasting 72 hours. Have an agent
assigned to each line and expect that agent to know current
offerings forward and backward. Prepare recommendation sheets for
each line, highlighting the best offers.Hold a late summer sidewalk sale for distressed cruise
merchandise. Invite suppliers to set up tables outside your office
or in some public venue such as a shopping center. Invite only
lines willing to promote special deals. Take deposits on the
spot.Issue a press release explaining that cruise prices are now at
1986 levels and offer some examples. Announce your office will be
open longer hours this week to handle the inquiries during this
"unique cruise-buying opportunity."Finally, schedule a staff meeting to discuss how you will
handle inquiries from passengers already booked on cruises who have
heard that prices are falling rapidly.
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
president. Contact him at [email protected].