The annual Thailand Tourism Forum, now in its sixth edition, continues to offer a fast-paced overview of the latest news and trends pertaining to Thailand’s hospitality industry all packed into an insightful two-hour session. The format’s success can be gauged from the attendance at the Grand Ballroom of Bangkok’s InterContinental Hotel, while the participation of Thailand’s state sector in the form of TAT clearly underlines the forum’s growing contribution.
Perhaps the centerpiece of the 2017 event was the unveiling of a new collaborative effort from the Phuket Hotels Association to develop Phuket as a brand in itself. While Amazing Thailand has prospered since 1998, the fact that Phuket today attracts as many visitors as the whole of Thailand did twenty years ago offers an opportunity to promote the island directly. The trend towards story-telling in the marketing of destinations and visitor experiences was evident, and in the case of Phuket will not only showcase the variety of attractions which appeal to very different customer bases, but will allow potential visitors a more accurate perception of how the island can match their expectations.
The statistical segment presented by Jesper Palmqvist of STR (Asia Pacific) confirmed that Thailand’s coup-inspired downturn of 2014 was short-lived, with occupancy and rates quickly returning to their original upward trajectory. In terms of rivals, Vietnam has shown by far the strongest growth in recent years, although this builds from a much lower baseline. Myanmar’s huge untapped potential remains, for the time being, untapped. One particularly helpful factor working in Thailand’s favor has been its ability to increase yields during periods of high demand, while other markets have seemingly failed to cash in.
The rise of Airbnb was mentioned at several stages of the afternoon’s proceedings, as the region’s hoteliers claimed to be unconcerned, while adding that such market disruption must be addressed, and that a focus on the personalization of guest experiences would be very important. To this discussion, Jesper added the numbers, noting that while Airbnb currently lists over 3 million rooms, although capacity is difficult to quantify using the criteria applied to hotels, its 4% market share is not necessarily cause for alarm. Indeed, with a growing global middle class driving rising tourism figures, there is room for everyone to do well.
For Hotelintel.co, the best was saved for last, as our own CEO, Wimintra Jangnin, made her first presentation at a regional industry event, talking about the ways in which hoteliers might have to adapt their strategies to meet the demands of Thai millennials. Much has been written about the millennial generation internationally – the generation aged roughly 18-35 – but the question remains as to what extent Thai millennial behavior mirrors that of the rest of the world. After all, generations are said to be shaped by a common background of shared cultural/historical experience, so by that logic one might reasonably expect differences between the 20 million Thai millennials and the 2.4 billion millennials elsewhere.
To find out more about the behavior patterns of Thai millennial travelers, Hotelintel.co conducted a survey; the main points of interest among the findings were not so much the data which confirmed that Thai millennials follow global trends in requiring Wi-Fi and social media for their basic survival, but the details which show how they sometimes diverge from international norms. What generally stood out was that hoteliers in the region should be thinking of Thai millennials as Thais first and foremost.
For example, it is widely documented that this generation relies upon information gathered online to make purchase decisions regarding travel. Internationally, this is perceived to be TripAdvisor, or reviews on Booking.com. Thai millennials are also heavily influenced by online feedback, but the sources they choose to visit are Thai language websites. The most influential of these, despite its outward appearance, is the forum, Pantip.com. The prevalence of Pantip in the survey responses suggests it is the first port of call for Thais no matter what subject they want to investigate, so if you have no presence through this Thai language channel, you won’t get your message to this generation of travelers.
Young Thais are not avid readers, as many national surveys have shown over the years, and much to the chagrin of the Ministry of Education. Their solution is to search for travel ideas and inspiration through images – they use hashtags extensively, and seek out visual rather than textual information. They are impressed by sights and scenes which appear cool, and can enhance their credibility when shared with friends. The Asian destinations they find most appealing are Japan, Vietnam, and Bali, but the respondent who answered “Slovenia” – having evidently failed to read the question properly – does reflect a growing desire to get off the beaten track and explore. Opportunities therefore abound for hoteliers who can present their destinations through hashtags and the Thai language.
The popularity of Airbnb with international millennials is not reflected among Thais, who prefer boutique hotels, chain hotels, or hostels in equal proportion. The main reason for this appears to be safety concerns, but the fact that a certain level of English is usually necessary in order to communicate with an Airbnb host may be a factor which contributes to the failure of Airbnb to make inroads with Thai millennials.
Finally, one perhaps surprising finding was the rejection of smartphone cameras as inadequate. The generation which is perceived to be glued to its phone and perpetually taking selfies actually aspires to something much better. There was a clear insistence that a proper camera – and they specified the Sony A5100 and Fuji AX-3 – is the only way to ensure their selfie standards don’t miss the mark. Who knew? For hoteliers, if you want to engage Thai millennials and spark their interest, these cameras would make great prizes/rewards.
The conclusion is that as Thailand’s inbound tourism numbers soar, the country will also become an increasingly important source market for outbound travel. However, just as hoteliers have sought to understand the Chinese traveler and cater to their needs, understanding the Thai traveler will become more important for regional destinations. Hoteliers must therefore begin to consider ways to engage with Thai millennials through their preferred channels and in their own language if they are to reap the rewards on offer.
Hoteliers interested in developing Thai language content and understanding Thai social media are welcome to submit queries to Hotelintel.co