'Amazing' Thailand Hopes to Lure U.S. Visitors

NEW YORK -- Thai tourism officials are counting on the burgeoning strength of the U.S. dollar relative to the Thai baht to help make their 1998-1999 Amazing Thailand promotional campaign even more effective in drawing visitors.

"The price of hotels, food, attractions and shopping is up to 40% less [in U.S. dollars] than a year ago," said Manit Boonchim, North America East Coast director for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, at a press briefing here. "Even the air fares from the U.S. and the cost of tour packages are at some of their lowest levels ever."

During the next two years, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is promoting the destination under the banner theme "Amazing Thailand" in its advertising and informational materials, with a focus on special events, special-interest markets and new tour programs.

For example, the Tourism Authority has declared April 1998 and 1999 to be Thai Food Festival months, while the focus during June and from mid-November to mid-December of both years will be on shopping, with 20% discount coupons handed out to all arriving tourists.

Moreover, "a plan is in process to eliminate the value-added tax on purchases by foreign visitors," something that should be achieved in a few months, said Nat Boonthanakit, the Tourism Authority's eastern region marketing manager.

In the special-interest area, the Tourism Authority plans to make new nature-oriented guidebooks available for visitors and will work with local tour companies to develop new itineraries with an ecotourism theme.

But an obvious focus of the overall promotion is to get the word out about the affordability of Thailand to visitors armed with dollars.

To that end, tourism officials cited several examples currently on the market.

  • Thai Airways' in-house Royal Orchid tour operation is promoting packages through May with prices starting at $750 per person, double, from the West Coast and $999 from the East Coast. The packages feature roundtrip air to Bangkok, four nights in a hotel, transfers, breakfasts and sightseeing (800) 426-5204.
  • Malaysia Airlines, at (800) 552-9264, is launching new 777 service on April 13 from Newark (N.J.) Airport to Kuala Lumpur via Dubai. Introductory roundtrip fares start at $700 to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, $750 to Bangkok and $777 to Hong Kong, for travel through June 12, with a maximum stayover of 30 days and a 10% commission.
  • Pacific Protour, at (800) 776-8882 has packages through May starting at $959 per person, double. The offer includes roundtrip air from New York on Cathay Pacific, five nights' accommodations, transfers, breakfasts, one dinner, sightseeing, tax and service charges and free air add-ons from nine other cities in the Northeast.
  • VacationLand (800) 245-0050, has a starting price of $899 per person, double, through May for a shoppers' package. The deal covers roundtrip air from New York or Los Angeles on Malaysia Airlines, three nights in Kuala Lumpur and four in Bangkok, breakfasts, transfers, sightseeing, hotel taxes and service charges.
  • Sequel Destinations, at (888) 426-7339, through May has a price of $1,120 per person, double, for a three-night Bangkok package. The plan includes roundtrip air from New York with a stopover in Manila; accommodations at the Asia Bangkok, Le Meridien or Crowne Plaza; daily breakfasts; transfers; sightseeing, and hotel taxes and service charges.
  • Boonthanakit said one aim of the Amazing Thailand promotion is to give tourists "a hands-on experience" at the destination instead of a passive, sightseeing-oriented visit.

    He added that Thailand is making progress on eliminating some of the headaches that visitors have faced in recent years, especially Bangkok's notorious traffic problems, which are being alleviated through construction of a beltway system and other expressways. "With the new tollways and expressways, the traffic situation has improved," he said. "That was always a concern in dealing with large meetings and conventions. Today, travel time at any time of the day from the airport to any downtown hotel is about 30 minutes," he said.
    Tourism Authority of Thailand
    Phone: (212) 432-0433

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