“THAILAND TRAVEL MART 2016 PLUS” Interview with the Director of the East Asia Department of the Thailand Tourism Bureau

In the middle is Mr. Ranchuan Thongrut, Director of East Asia Department of Tourism Authority of Thailand.On the left is Mr. Salawadee Assassapakit, Director of the Osaka Office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and on the right is Mr. Tanawadee Suksakhunwat, Deputy Director of the Tokyo Office of the Tourism Authority of Thailand

The Tourism Authority of Thailand held the country’s largest tourism business conference “THAILAND TRAVEL MART PLUS 2016 (TTM+ 2016)” in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand from June 8th to 10th local time. At the venue, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Ranchuan Thongrut, director of the East Asia Bureau of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, who is responsible for the affairs of the entire East Asian region including Japan.

Please note that there are many media participating in this interview, and the following content includes questions and answers from other media reporters.


Mr. Lanchuan Thongrut, Director of East Asia Bureau, Tourism Authority of Thailand

——What is the purpose of many Japanese people traveling to Thailand?

Mr Thornroot:The number one priority, of course, is leisure and sightseeing. Many tourists come for sports such as golf. Next comes MICE (meetings, training, etc.) and then business. In 2014, 73% were leisure, and in the first half of 2015 (January to June), 70% were leisure.

——My impression is that many Japanese come to Thailand to play golf. During the fair, the Minister of Tourism and Sports spoke about the promotion of sports tourism.

Mr Thornroot:One of the most popular sports in Japan is the marathon. We are strengthening the promotion of Marathon in the Japanese market. We are working with travel agencies to create group tours in Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, etc., so that they can come to Thailand.

We participate in the Tokyo and Osaka Marathon Expos every year to attract them. At this time, instead of promoting a single marathon event, the organizers of the Phuket Laguna Phuket International Marathon, the Northeast Khon Kaen Province, and the Pattaya Marathon gathered together to jointly promote the event.

There are two major marathon events in Bangkok, namely the Bangkok Midnight Run held in the middle of the night and the Bangkok Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon.

131 people from Japan participated in the Phuket Laguna International Marathon held in June 2016, and the Japanese won the championship.

——What challenges do you see in increasing the number of Japanese tourists to Thailand?

Mr Thornroot:It’s not a huge deal, but if I had to choose one, it would be the number of seats on the plane. The number of flights between the two countries is increasing, but there are currently a large number of Thais traveling to Japan due to the Japanese government’s visits to Japan. As a result, the number of seats on offer has not kept up. The Thai side wants the Japanese to come, and the Japanese government also wants the Thais to come.

——Do you have any requirements for Thai Airways International?

Mr Thornroot:We also asked Thai Airways to increase the number of flights. But due to the number of aircraft in our inventory and the flight situation between the two countries, we are unable to increase the number of flights at this time. Therefore, we need to cooperate more with Japanese airlines JAL (Japan Airlines) and ANA (All Nippon Airways) to establish a cooperation system so that they can not only operate main routes, but also operate regional routes such as Chiang Mai. I think.

Going back to the Thai Airways story, for example, seats are available on late night flights to Tokyo and Nagoya, so we promote not only daytime flights, but also late night flights to Thailand, thereby introducing vacancies. Like to continue Also, there is room in business class, so I encourage business people to travel to Thailand in business class.

Also, I want to promote the women’s movement, change time zones, create packages for women, and consider the supply and demand balance.

——The number of LCC female users is increasing. Do you work with LCCs in any way?

Mr Thornroot:So is Scoot, and AirAsia also operates flights to Japan. In that regard, we’re also trying to work with places that can offer seats, whether it’s a low-cost carrier or a full-service carrier. We are also working with Scoot and AirAsia to increase customer referrals.

Previously, for low-cost airlines, we were considering sending customers to Thailand even with low-cost airlines instead of sending customers to the capital Bangkok. As the Tourism Authority of Thailand, we selected 12 cities outside the main cities as “12 hidden gems” and tried to bring tourists to these places. As for AirAsia, Loei in the northeast region has a masked festival called Peter Kang Festival, and Ubon Ratchathani has a candle festival. We are considering sending customers to local cities based on these festivals.

——You said that the proportion of men is high, but what do you think is the reason why the proportion of women is low and they do not come to Thailand often?

Mr Thornroot:I think the main reason is that men are in high demand for business. I think women have less free time for family and childcare, etc., and I think the lack of ways to make Thailand a suitable travel destination for women is also the reason.

This approach is the “Thai Woman’s Journey”. In addition to the use of SNS (social media) by office workers in particular, we are considering a mechanism to deliver information directly to these people by direct mail. We also considered partnering with companies that deal in cosmetics, jewelry, and other items that women love.


“Thailand Women’s Journey”, a women’s event held by the Tourism Authority of Thailand in August

——Tell us about your events and promotions for women. Also, what would you like women in Chiang Mai to know?

Mr Thornroot:This year, the Thai government made a special appeal to women around the world. I wanted Thailand to be a more feminine country as a slogan, and since the queen will be 84 this year, I wanted to focus on that as well.

Thailand has a lot of things for women, but if you go to Chiang Mai, it’s 700 years old. I think it’s great to experience culture and history in all its forms in the context of 700 years of history.

A person has experience, has experience. In Chiang Mai, you can see and experience Umbrella Painting (Umbrella Painting), and I thought it would be nice to paint a picture against the background of rich nature, culture and history. Chiang Mai is a city of art, I hope you can experience it.

Not only Chiang Mai, but the whole north has a unique culture. In terms of climate, the northern climate is very comfortable. October to February is said to be winter in Thailand, with a warm climate and blooming flowers. Feel free to touch the flowers, there is a flower festival in the first week of February, so the whole north is covered with flowers. Hands-on sessions such as lei demonstrations are held on site. I thought it would be a good idea to have a feminine flower theme.

Also, an unforgettable experience is the cooking class. Each region has its own cooking classes, but northern regions have traditional northern dishes. For example, come here to experience curry ramen “Khao Soi”, minced meat salad “Larb”, Chiang Mai curry, etc.

If we target professional women in particular, we believe they will come to Chiang Mai next time to relax, vacation, and rejuvenate. So I would like to mention “Lanna Spa”, a northern culture spa. By the way, Chiang Mai was once known as the Lanna Dynasty, and its culture is still preserved today. That’s why I use the word Lanna to describe northern culture.

Shopping is also included. There is a traditional and artistic culture in northern Thailand, so there are many handicrafts from this aspect. Here you can find traditional items such as silverware, woodwork and textiles as well as new crafts. Not only Japanese but also Thai women come to Chiang Mai to shop, so I think we can attract the world. There is also a night market for shopping, but there are plenty of other places to visit in Chiang Mai such as various walking streets. I think it’s a pleasure to shop there.

Anyway, I hope you can come to Chiang Mai to recharge your batteries. I hope you don’t come here to do something all the time, but spend your time slowly in this atmosphere. I think you can hang out in trendy cafes for a while and recharge your energy with an open feeling.


Northern Thailand, like Chiang Mai, has its own culture that has continued since the Lanna Dynasty.

——In Japan, students and young people tend to be reluctant to travel abroad. Do you have any appeals or measures for young people or those who have not been to Thailand?

Mr Thornroot:We also target students. Previously, we had a lot of promotions for students, including school trips, so a lot of students came to visit us. I feel like the students have become alienated by this situation, so I feel like I have to explain and promote the event not only to the students but also to their parents.

Many students, including those on school trips, are coming, and numbers are dwindling. As is the case in Japan as a whole, we will have to investigate the reasons for the decline in overseas travel, but at this stage we hope to attract students and university students who are a little higher than the younger cohort. For college students, one of our main pillars is the interaction between students. I would love to go to the school for student exchanges and experience traditional cultural exchanges, such as dance. For students, there is ample supply of hotels including Chiang Mai, so students can go on a large trip and I think we can prepare categories that fit their budget.

I believe that the students will gain more from the mutual exchange, and it will also be of great help to their future social experience. As a social contributor, I hope not only to revitalize Bangkok, but also the local city. For example, next week about 200 Taiwanese students will come to Chiang Mai to exchange in the suburbs. I also want to apply this to the Japanese market.

We are also one of the target groups. In terms of hands-on experience, there’s some overlap with the women’s stuff, but I think we can also appeal to the artistic side and ceramic pottery. The transport infrastructure and hotels are adequate, there are also youth hotels depending on your budget. You can cut your budget. I think I can appeal to that group and class.

Language issues are often mentioned during communication, but of course there is no problem in communicating in English, and not only the tour guide can speak Japanese, but many Thai students themselves can also speak Japanese.

——Regarding long-term stays in Chiang Mai, please tell us about the characteristics of long-term stays unique to Chiang Mai and future initiatives.

Mr Thornroot:Next week we will also hold a long-term residence seminar and forum for Japanese people in Chiang Mai. Including this, I think Chiang Mai is suitable for long-term living. We have the transport infrastructure and the climate. My life has been full since coming here. In case of an emergency, the hospital can also respond in Japanese. I think there are many factors that make you come here to relax, such as the spa.

As for the long-term residents, it goes without saying that they just stay to kill their leisure time, but they also participate in voluntary activities. There are many places where I want to participate in society, such as teaching Japanese at school, teaching painting and pottery, helping out in hospitals, etc. I think this is one of the reasons why Chiang Mai has been a popular place for long stays for over 20 years.

I think we can stay in various cities for a long time, and I want to actively promote Chiang Mai as one of them.

——“12 Hidden Gems” is being advertised as “12 Treasures” in Japan. Please tell us about your future promotion plans.

Mr Thornroot:12 Hidden Gems was a success in 2015. This year we started promoting “12 Hidden Gems Plus”. In Japan, we have been working to bring media, bloggers and celebrities to Thailand, introducing 12 cities with hidden gems. We also introduced Japanese suppliers, and we hope to promote such efforts.

So far, 12 Hidden Gems as a tourism agency has been trying to make people aware of it, but in the future, we are thinking about actually creating tours to attract people to Thailand. I think the Japanese are looking for something new.

Regarding FIT (FIT), I think you can use the plan while providing the latest information through SNS. Regarding the FIT market, AirAsia has flights to various regions, so we are actually cooperating with AirAsia for promotion.


The “12 Hidden Gems” campaign conveys the charm of second- and third-tier cities after big cities

——I think there is a language problem in attracting tourists to rural areas.

Mr Thornroot:Many people in our country can speak Japanese. Until five or six years ago, Japan was the number one destination for foreign tourists in Thailand. There are many young people and students studying Japanese, so I don’t think it will be a big problem.

In Japan, we also provide Japanese language education in cooperation with the ASEAN Center.

——It seems that the number of Chinese tourists going to Thailand is increasing rapidly, but is there any change in the number of people learning Japanese in such a market?

Mr Thornroot:as before. This is because there are many Thais who want to go to Japan. Of course, the number of people learning Chinese is increasing, but there are also students who continue to study Japanese.

——From a Thai perspective, is there any difference between Japanese tourists and tourists from other East Asian countries?

Mr Thornroot:My impression is that they are very disciplined and tidy. Of course, Thailand welcomes everyone from all over the world, so there is no good or bad, but I think the quality of travel in Japan is high. It’s clean and tidy. The way Thai people behave makes them more pro-Japanese. However, Japanese people want to travel in Japanese, and we want to be able to accommodate their needs as much as possible.

In 2016, our goal is to receive 1.5 million tourists from Japan to Thailand. I have to increase from the previous year, so I need to make that effort. Male prevalence is very high, close to 75% are male. At this point, while there is overlap, I would like to increase the proportion of women by strengthening initiatives for women.

I think Thailand is one of the countries where the Japanese government’s efforts to visit Japan have been very successful. The number of tourists from Thailand to Japan is expected to exceed 1 million. In this respect, Japan is the most popular tourist country for Thais. Thailand is a pro-Japanese country, so I am happy to welcome Japanese people to Thailand. Looking at the behavior of the Japanese, I think it’s the other side of the story: they want to go to Japan because they have a good impression of the Thais. I want Thailand to be one of the countries that every Japanese wants to visit the most.

——The use of private accommodation such as Airbnb is increasing globally, but what do you think, including legal developments?

Mr Thornroot:Private accommodation is available in Thailand, but the Tourism Authority of Thailand recommends staying in hotels. This is because Thailand has a wide range of 3-star to 5-star hotels and villas, and accommodation facilities are sufficient, so there is no shortage of supply.

For example, sometimes young people go to homestay as a training trip, but this is to learn about agriculture and culture, which is a different part than private accommodation. There are plenty of hotel rooms for the average traveler, so choose and stay.

——What about car-sharing services like Lyft and Uber?

Mr Thornroot:I’ve seen problems in other countries, but even in Thailand there are no strict rules. In Thailand, a license is required to operate a taxi, but I haven’t heard of Uber etc getting a license. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Thailand, so demand may vary slightly from other countries.


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