TOKYO : The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) will broaden its Japan focus to attract new groups of travellers such as youths, women and honeymooners.
Japanese travellers are among the "quality tourists" that the TAT is pinning its hopes on to help meet the government's goal of 2 trillion baht in annual tourism revenue by 2015.
TAT governor Suraphon Svetasreni said despite Thailand and Japan enjoying good relations, the number of Japanese visitors remains relatively small, and the new groups to be targeted have great potential.
Japanese arrivals plunged in April 2010 amid the political rioting in Thailand but picked up again after the end of the one-year mourning period for the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The Japan Association of Travel Agents said the number of Japanese exiting their country increased by 17% to 8.94 million year-on-year in the first half of this year.
The number of outbound tourists will increase by 5.9% to 18 million this year, it predicts.
The strengthening yen _ presently about 40 baht per 100 _ is encouraging Japanese to travel to Thailand, but safety remains a big issue.
"If the Thai government wants more tourism revenue, then it must assure foreign visitors that Thailand is a safe destination," said Nittaya Aumbhitaya, director of the TAT's Tokyo office.
A big campaign planned for next year by the TAT is the "Ultimate Khao Yai, Japan Common Projects", to be featured in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka and aimed especially at school trips.
Other "Ultimate Khao Yai" targets are East Asian luxury, golfer, family and eco-tourism travellers.
Mrs Nittaya said in order to attract more women tourists, the TAT plans to organise product testing, with the featured routes being Bangkok-Ayutthaya as well as Phuket-Chiang Mai.
Culture and "Thainess" will feature prominently in a "Sabai Thailand" campaign aimed at attracting Japanese housewives and other women who are fond of handicrafts, she said.
Drawing classes and cooking lessons are also being planned as well as visits to Bangkok's new Museum of Floral Culture.
For the youth market, the goal is to have five Japanese schools visit Thailand within the next two years.
Mrs Nittaya said plans for the youth market have now been dusted off after the political unrest in Thailand two years ago disrupted tourist arrivals.
Mr Suraphon said Japan's couples and honeymoon market also has interesting prospects.
Young Japanese couples now prefer visiting Guam or Hawaii, but the TAT believes it can tap this market.
"We have luxury and unique boutique hotels priced competitively," said Mr Suraphon.
He said Thailand's beautiful beaches will be used as an important selling point to attract this market, which will become the TAT's main focus once the women's and youth markets are stable.
Last year, Thailand was the top Asean destination for Japanese travellers and ranked No.7 globally, but already-tight competition is growing.
Mrs Nittaya said Malaysia, already a serious rival, plans to boost Japanese arrivals by an additional 1 million in the next two years from 386,974 visitors last year.
Japanese arrivals in Thailand totalled 1.12 million last year, contributing revenue of 37.7 billion baht.
Of these, 24% were first-time visitors.
Independent travellers accounted for 81% of the total and group tours the rest.
Their average length of stay was 7.65 days with spending per day per head of 4,472 baht.
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- Writer: Chadamas Chinmaneevong