Chennai, June 23 2014: Thailand’s nationwide curfew was lifted 10 days ago and demand from India is looking stronger than ever. Zooming into Chennai, travel agents say that they are relieved that the curfew has been lifted but also insist that their numbers have remained resilient right through. “Thailand is like a second home to most Indians hence small political problems do not represent a threat for them,” says Caroline Rozario, Manager – MICE, Ascon Holidays.
Shibani Phadkar, Senior Vice President – Products & Operations, Leisure Travel (Outbound), Thomas Cook (India) Ltd agreed with this: “Thailand has always been a favourite with our Chennai-based customers, being a convenient short haul for short breaks and leisurely laid back vacations, its diversity covers a range of price points to suit every wallet, be it the value-seeker or the luxury UHNI-HNI segment whom we cater to under our luxury brand, Indulgence,” she said.
That’s not to say that media reports created no apprehension amongst travellers. The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) offices received daily inquiries about the truth of the situation as did travel agents. Importantly, most travellers were only looking for reassurance that they could go ahead with their plans. Once shown the real picture, people persisted with travel plans. Manish Kriplani, Managing Director, Baywatch Travels Pvt Ltd said, “Demand for Thailand was unwavering. People were certainly concerned because of news reports. However after we checked with our partners in Thailand, who gave us a much more realistic picture of the destination, we could reassure potential travellers and they went ahead and travelled. People returned more satisfied than ever because they received better deals than otherwise. I suppose it was also a breather for a region that is always crowded with tourists.
Rozario concurred that customers were calling in looking to be reassured: “The two groups for travel first week of June did approach us with questions about Thailand’s political situation. We forwarded the mail received from TAT and after a lot of briefing, we had the corporate convinced. The feed-back from the team that travelled was excellent. They said that future groups had nothing to fear,” she said.
Additional feedback from the travel trade indicated that many corporates decided that this was in fact an opportune moment to host a Thailand trip and bag an even better deal than otherwise. “All in all I think the situation was blown out of proportion. Vigilance was on a high on the first day of the curfew but following that, life went on as usual. Some of our corporate customers also thought it was a good opportunity to knock on hotels’ doors for better deals,” Kriplani continued.
“Our bookings remained steady with five groups totaling nearly 250 people, travelling between March and June,” Rozario added.
Diversions, if any, were to other parts of Thailand, testify tour operators. “Given the sensitivity/ media coverage, we did see a shift in demand from Chennai this year, moving beyond Bangkok, to destinations like Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Koh Samet,” Phadkar explained. However, this is also in line with TAT’s strategy to promote itineraries ‘beyond Bangkok’ among Indian travellers.
With the curfew being lifted across Thailand and thousands of travellers returning to share that all is (and was) well in Thailand, demand is on the upswing. Travel agents are showing optimism. “Thailand will continue to trend and features strongly as part of our Monsoon ‘Drizzlers’, ‘Festive Breaks’ for Dussehra-Diwali-Durga Puja, as also our honeymoon packages later this year,” Phadkar shares.
TAT’s Mumbai director Sethphan Buddhani is optimistic too. “We are targeting 1,070,000 travellers from India by the end of 2014. We are hosting journalists, bloggers and travel agents in the destination so that they can see and judge Thailand’s safety, normalcy and continued warm hospitality with their own eyes,” he says.