Full belly, happy traveller
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Full belly, happy traveller

Beloved for generations, the public and private sectors want to fully utilise the appeal of Thai cuisine and food products to attract revenue

TAT's Bangkok office and Simummuang Market held its first Durian Expo during May 21-26, luring tourists to taste and buy durian, the king of fruit.
TAT's Bangkok office and Simummuang Market held its first Durian Expo during May 21-26, luring tourists to taste and buy durian, the king of fruit.

From jasmine rice to Pad Thai noodles and spicy tom yum soups, Thailand is renowned for its robust agricultural and food products, making it a major exporter worldwide.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) estimates 20-25% of tourism expenditures are for food, particularly Thai dishes, during trips to the nation.

The government now wants to use Thai foods to promote soft power, elevating its exposure to foreigners and adding value from these products.

The private sector also has high hopes for food tourism and suggests continued efforts to uplift the entire food ecosystem.

Food proves decisive

Panchana Vatanasathien, president of Khao Yai Tourism Association, said recent trends indicate tourists visiting Khao Yai and Nakhon Ratchasima want to explore local restaurants and more authentic cuisine that is unique to this area.

Ms Panchana said good restaurants and cafes are among the top reasons to visit Khao Yai, as people want to relax and enjoy good meals with friends and family.

As an owner of Bib Gourmand-listed restaurant Penlaos in Khao Yai, she said her customers include locals with second homes in Khao Yai as well as tourists coming from Bangkok.

Ms Panchana said the TAT's gastronomy promotion using the Michelin Guide, which awards Bib Gourmand, is a positive move for the tourism industry, banking on the recognised brand of the guidebook to reach foreign travellers.

Nine eateries in Nakhon Ratchasima were awarded with Bib Gourmand status in the latest guide, including two in the Pak Chong area.

Across four cities in the Northeast, 33 restaurants were listed in the most recent edition.

"When Thai tourists travel abroad, they want to taste local dished presented in the Michelin Guide, similar to foreigners who travel here," she said.

As Khao Yai welcomes more foreign tourists, the guidebook can help restaurants attract more of these visitors, said Ms Panchana.

Ms Panchana says TAT's pact with 'Michelin Guide' was a boon for the tourism industry.

Fresh market destination

TAT's Bangkok office and food wholesaler Simummuang Market held its first Durian Expo during May 21-26, hoping to lure tourists to taste and buy durian, which is dubbed the king of fruit.

Located in Pathum Thani near Don Meaung airport, Simummuang Market spans 560,000 square metres with 22 buildings selling fruit, snacks, seafood and flowers.

The market imports around 8,000 tonnes of agricultural products daily from local farms and abroad, with daily traffic of about 70,000 visitors.

During the Durian Expo, more than 100 sellers offered 100,000 durians including several varieties, engaging buyers with special promotions and game shows.

Chanyuth Sawetsuwan, director of TAT's Bangkok office, said the expo was expected to generate more than 180 million baht in revenue over six days, with 30% derived from retail purchases.

"Our strategy is to increase tourism spending with unique events in each season, helped by promoting new attractions," said Mr Chanyuth.

Apiwat Sukpan, area management director at Simummuang Market, said the market wants to lure more retail buyers and become a new tourism destination that offers visitors a taste of local products during a day trip.

Mr Apiwat said durian at the market sell for similar prices as at local fruit farms.

Tourists and retail customers can buy even small amounts of durian at the market, he said.

More Chinese tourists are visiting the market recently to buy Thai fruit, including durian, mangoes and mangosteens, as fruit tours are a growing trend on social media, said Mr Apiwat.

The market adapted by installing signage in Chinese.

"Fresh markets now have a new role. We want to be like the Tsukiji Market in Japan where tourists include it in their itineraries," he said.

"Apart from the fruit wholesale industry, we are tapping into the tourism segment and it is now the major economic driver. Our market offers high-quality fruit products."

Within a few years, retail sales should increase to 30% of the market's total revenue as it plans to attract more tour groups, said Mr Apiwat.

More special events are planned, such as a Mango Expo and Vegetarian Food Festival, he said.

The market will also offer a one-day fruit delivery package for tourists, said Mr Apiwat.

He said he is confident about the strategy because there are no other fresh markets as competitors.

Simummuang is prepared in terms of hygiene, waste management, convenient traffic and parking, said Mr Apiwat.

Mr Chanyuth said despite a sluggish economy, food remains a crucial part of trips for both foreigners and locals, as they tend to spend on their favourite dishes or special products during holidays.

Dishes at Penlaos, a Khao Yai eatery listed as Bib Gourmand in the 'Michelin Guide'.

Soft Power

Ms Panchana, also an owner of two restaurants in Singapore and Indonesia, said the roadblock for the Thai food industry is the lack of entrepreneurial and business skills.

"Thais are very good at cooking Thai cuisine, but bad at management," she said, adding many Thai restaurants and Asian supermarkets abroad are managed by other nationalities, not Thais.

"To promote Thai food is not only about the content and branding, but also how to shape an entire ecosystem for food businesses, which requires planning at every stage," said Ms Panchana.

She said the government should continue promoting "Thai Select" brands, aiming to become as popular as the Michelin Guide.

Authorities should also train new chefs with both cooking and management skills, then support opening Thai restaurants abroad, said Ms Panchana.

The more Thai restaurants are opened, the more sales and exports of local ingredients and raw products will increase, she said.

"It is crucial to connect food suppliers and restaurants with local farmers and producers who practice sustainable and organic methods," said Ms Panchana.


Anuwat Churyen, director of the International Gastronomy Tourism Centre at Maejo University, applauded efforts by the authorities and some organisations to establish a curriculum for producing new Thai chefs.

However, they should not duplicate the Western method, adapting the training to a Thai context, including cooking tools and serving methods, he said.

"Do not focus on promoting certain dishes or seeking the most 'authentic' Thai dish because there is no such thing," said Mr Anuwat.

"It is hard to narrow down a national Thai dish to one recipe because dishes vary from region to region, and food is consumed and prepared in many places."

For instance, a traditional pla ra is fermented fish, which is consumed in many places in Southeast Asia.

We should embrace not only Siamese national dishes, but also cuisine from Isan, northern and southern regions, as well as numerous ethnicities originating in Thailand, he said.

"These are new tourism opportunities for second-tier cities to showcase their unseen local dishes," said Mr Anuwat.

"A great dish can help enhance the local economy and make the origin area a creative district."

He said the government should study and keep recipe records, especially for rare local dishes, so that later generations can learn from and adapt them to make new dishes.

As sustainable tourism becomes more trendy following the pandemic, Mr Anuwat said the whole food ecosystem needs to be sustainable for promote better living through the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization framework. These aspects include food waste management, healthy nutrition enhancement and sustainable agriculture production.

Dishes at Penlaos, a Khao Yai eatery listed as Bib Gourmand in the 'Michelin Guide'.

Dishes at 'Penlaos,' Bib Gourmand listed restaurant in Khao Yai.

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