Although a recent package of emergency measures to stimulate the industry has recently been announced, previous stop gap attempts to alleviate the downturn such the amendment of visa regulations are unlikely to have any positive long lasting effect. Even the previously reliable Russians are likely to be conspicuous by their absence as 2 million of them have lost their jobs in the first 3 months of the year.
Never before has the Tourist Authority of Thailand been under such pressure to hone its marketing strategy and come up with new methods to attract its share of the dwindling international tourist pool. The TAT needs all the help it can get.
A HUGE UNTAPPED MARKET
Step forward, Mr Anand Sandil, Managing Director of the Indian company, Fun Holidays Instant Reservation Pvt. Ltd. PDN recently had the pleasure to spend some time with the very pleasurable Mr. Sandil and his team in Pattaya as they took care of a group of 70 male sales representatives from a major Indian concrete supplier.
He and his wife, Darshana, have been actively involved in tourism for the last 20 years and in 1993 they established Fun Holidays as a hotel and resort marketing company. It currently acts as the marketing office for many hotels and resorts throughout the vast continent of India. The company also provides tailor made turnkey solutions to corporate clients and acts as travel agents for individuals. Development of Fun Holidays over the years has given it access to a network of more than 600 travel agents and 300 corporate clients together with associate offices around the world.
Mr. Sandil and his wife have a solid hotel management background and over the last 20 years have acquired a sound knowledge of all the operational aspects of a hotel including F&B, booking and housekeeping systems etc. When dealing with hotels he says it’s important to know their strengths and weaknesses and utilise resources accordingly.
Mr. Sandil loves Thailand as a tourist destination and he has some fascinating ideas as to how the Indians can come to its rescue. “I can be a very good ambassador for Thailand” , he says, “Compared with Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Macao, I feel Thailand is one of the most suitable destinations for the Indian tourist”.
Mr. Sandil is investing resources in bringing to Thailand more and more of his countrymen who account for one sixth of the world’s population at just under 1.2 billion. Although the Indian economy is in recession the country has a large strong core sector in its infrastructure. India is also an open democratic country and its banks remain very strong – due in part to the saving culture among Indians together with the stable system under which they operate. Indians, by nature, are a fun-loving, travel oriented people. Anywhere in the world you’ll find Indians and Indian food.
Another important point is that Indians are not so concerned with Thailand’s political troubles. “We can keep such events in perspective”, stated Mr. Sandil, “and by tradition we, as a nation, can fight back against adverse events, and we realise that we share this ability with Thais”
CAN THAILAND TAILOR THE MARKET FOR THE INDIAN TOURIST?
He believes that so far TAT has underrated the vast potential of his country as a viable source of high quality tourists particularly given the fact that Thailand and India share many common roots in their cultural history. Also, literature and some of the performing arts in Thailand are heavily influenced by Indian culture. India, itself, has its own vast linguistic, genetic and cultural diversity. Mr. Sandil doesn’t mince his words when we discuss the TAT: “If TAT could tap into this enormous resource, the dividends could be huge. They need to recognize that the Indian economy is relatively strong. They need to be more open now than before, and should be looking towards India as an organised tourist market . They have to try and understand the requirements of the Indian traveller and provide the necessary facilities and bring them to Thailand.They should also work closer with the airlines to make their ticketing policies more flexible and enable larger groups to travel to Thailand”.
At the moment Thailand is not an independent destination for the Indian traveller. It’s usually combined in a tour including Singapore and Malaysia, with usually 2 or 3 days in each country. Mr. Sandil wants to change this: “These are good tours in themselves but what we are looking for is to bring people from India to spend more time in Thailand and explore more of the country. For example, very few tours include Ayutthaya on the main tourist trail for Indians, which is strange bearing in mind the strong connections Ayutthaya has to Indian history. And the spectacular Siam Niramit cultural show never appears on the itinary. It may make the tour more expensive but most Indians would consider it worth the extra price.”
He adds: “If Thailand wants to attract more people from India they should generate the facilities and spread the word about those that exist already – including, for example, Thailand’s large conference venues.”
As an example of the potential, Mr Sandil explains that Fun Holidays were one of the first companies to bring a conference all the way from India to Kuala Lumpur at the top floor of the KL Tower. They utilised this venue with great success on 3 occasions and the KL tower has now become a hot conference venue for many Indian companies who want the prestige of holding their functions in the highest conference location in the world!
“In the same way in Thailand we are looking for such venues for serious conferences, and there are without doubt many possibilities throughout the country. TAT should also be seriously tapping this market in India “ says Fun Holidays General Manager, Ashutosh Rawal who, together with a team of 47 dedicated staff, is ready to offer all the necessary support.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MICE AND THE CORPORATE MARKET
It was in 2000 that Mr. Sandil started developing “MICE” (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and other territories. Two years ago the company entered the Thai market. Fun Holidays have been bringing groups to Thailand since 1999, and these days are assisted by the Thai operator Phenoinfin Co. Ltd. and its director Meena for whom he has nothing but praise: “Meena organises everything and offers us a 24 hour service. It would be impossible for us to operate without such professional backup. Over the years Meena has come to be a valuable colleague, a close friend, almost a member of the family!”.
|During our conversation Meena telephones to finalise a special arrangement that night. The 70 members of the current group are in for a special treat as Mr. Sandil is arranging a beach party. “This is the first time we have organised a beach party in Thailand, though we have done this many times before in other locations. It has been a difficult task. We approached 20 restaurants and they all said no! At times it seems that it’s difficult for Thais to think outside the box. The party tonight has required a lot of manpower and all in all it’s been complicated and expensive – to do properly. But we’re going to try and see how it works. We are fortunate in having Meena ,who has literally taken care of everything. We just contribute ideas and suggestions.”
If the beach party turns out to be a success, it could lead to other special events such as Indian weddings, carnival festivals, pirates nights, Indian music and fashion festivals.
“Thailand is without doubt a destination that can cater to just about any event but it hasn’t managed to market this opportunity in the same way as Singapore and Hong Kong. In these countries their event companies are in close touch with their Indian equivalents and the Indian tour companies. TAT and the Thai tourism industry have a lot to learn here.”
The previous evening an event was arranged at the Fashion Club in Pattaya which Mr. Sandil describes as one of the nicest places in Pattaya: “I was very impressed and our group had an enjoyable evening. I built up a good working relationship with the management and now I know what they’re capable of. The club owners asked me why I don’t ask other tour operators in India to use them. With the current glut in the disco market they truly realise the potential.”
The group in Pattaya now is the 14th that Fun Holidays have brought to Thailand generating a sizeable revenue for the tourism industry. For 50 of the group of 70 men, it’s their first trip outside of India.
THE WAY FORWARD
As for the future Mr. Sandil remains philosophical and cautiously optimistic: “The next two to three years are going to be tough. Even so, between 2009 – 2010 we intend to bring a minimum of 2000 tourists to Thailand directly through our company alone. These will all be staying in Thailand for a minimum of 6 nights. We want to concentrate not only on numbers but also on quality. We want to bring more A and B group tourists but for this we will require more support from local companies. We also need event companies to get in touch and tell us what is on offer and what is available. Currently the major international market for Indian tourism is Malaysia, followed by Singapore. We suggest that TAT examine these countries to see what they are doing right for the Indian tourist and learn from them.”
Mr Anand Sandil can be contacted through www.pattayadailynews.com