With international arrivals at all time highs in all first three quarters of this year, Thailand recently endured its worst flood in living history. The heart of the country, Bangkok, took a serious tourism hit as the international media broadcast images of widespread inundation.
One of the national projects put on hold due to the floods was the "Miracle Thailand" tourism campaign, originally slated to launch in November 2011. Yet when it comes to overcoming obstacles, Thailand has often proved that its more than capable of performing such biblical feats. Historically speaking, the speed at which Thailand bounces back from natural and political disasters is impressive, and a positive indication of the country's strength and overall attractiveness for both business and leisure visitors. Despite the 2004 Tsunami, International arrival numbers of 7.76 million in 1998 nearly doubled within a decade to reach 14.46 million in 2008. The global financial recession and the political unrest in 2010 only caused a slight dent in the arrival numbers, which dropped to 14.15 million by year end.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand's investment of 1.3 million baht (30.69 Euros) in its latest tourist campaign is a mere fraction of the original requested budget of 8.4 billion (just under 200 million Euros), but with pre-flood tourist estimates putting arrivals this year to 19 million, "Miracle Thailand" was aiming to boost arrivals to 30 million within the next four years, as well as to generate tourist income to 2 trillion Baht (47 billion Euros).
The effects of such a global tourism campaign are not easy to measure. India launched its global "Incredible India" campaign nearly a decade ago, with television commercials and sleek print advertisements casting an almost mystical seduction on travellers. Malaysia soon followed suit in 2004, its recognizable "Truly Asia" jingle also often heard on television channels, a campaign that became the most awarded national tourism campaign of all time, honoured as "Asia's best long-term marketing and branding campaign" at the Asian Marketing Effectiveness AMEGold awards four years after its launch. Tourist arrivals have been on the up and up in both countries, but it's still difficult to draw the correlation between humming the jingle and booking a ticket.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand, meanwhile, has been through a slew of slogans in recent history, ranging from "Unseen Thailand", "Amazing Thailand, Amazing Value", "Happiness on Earth", and "Amazing Thailand, Always Amazes You", before going full circle and reverting back to "Amazing Thailand", a tagline that was first launched in 1998. But backing up these creations,Word of mouth and visitor tales have also done their share of spreading the Thai word around the world and the Tourism Authority of Thailand have also recently started dabbling in the free-for-all world of digital marketing. Social media, Facebook in particular, is not an unfamiliar platform for Thais. In fact, with some 7.42 million users in Bangkok, the capital is the 5th largest "Facebook city" in the world according to socialbakers.com, ahead of cities such as Madrid, Rome, New York, Paris, and Los Angeles.
As a whole, Thailand ranks 16th in the world in terms of Facebook users, more than Australia, Japan, and Hong Kong. It's therefore not surprising that earlier this year, the Tourism Authority of Thailand developed game applications under Smile Land (www.facebook.com/smilelandgame), which can also be found on the tourism board's website (www.tourismthailand.org/multimedia/e-game). The games range from finding ingredients to make som tam -- the popular Thai papaya salad, racing in a tuk-tuk -- the famous motorized rickshaws, and giving your partner a traditional Thai massage.
Games and destination marketing aside, Thailand is blessed with warm people and a colourful local way of life peacefully coexisting alongside the best luxuries the world has to offer. Not to mention beautiful natural attractions, all of which have spawned an army of unofficial country ambassadors. There's no doubt the Kingdom will once again stand tall -- it's only a question of which tourism banner it will fly. Perhaps they should combine our neighbour's catchy slogans, it would certainly fit: "Thailand: Truly Incredible".
By Jules Kay