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How Thailand is pioneering ‘new normal’ tourism

By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA, The Philippine Star Published Jun 05, 2022 5:00 am

In the tourism game, no one in Southeast Asia is doing it quite like Thailand.

“We have set a target of 10 million tourists to come back by the end of year,” says Tates Petsuwan, Tourism Authority of Thailand Deputy Governor for International Marketing at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit 2022.

Tourism is 20 percent of the country’s GDP key economy structure; 40 million tourists went to the Land of Smiles, pre-pandemic. They started with the Phuket Sandbox, the first tourist bubble for vaccinated travelers.

Gulf of Thailand

Petsuwan shares that the government is making travel back to Thailand as frictionless as possible with their campaign “Amazing New Chapters.”

There is no need to register for a Thailand Pass effective June 1. Apart from the required negative RT-PCR test, “wearing masks depends on your sentiments,” says Petsuwan.

The Standard Bangkok

Known for its vibrant nightlife — from the rooftop bars of Bangkok to the Full Moon parties on the shores of Koh Phangan — Thailand will also allow nightclubs and karaoke bars to resume regular hours starting in June.

And if you’ve already been to Thailand and think you’ve seen it all, Petsuwan promises there’s more to go back for.

Welcoming the digital nomad

If there’s anything the pandemic, lockdowns, and sheltering for safety have taught us, it’s that with a stable internet connection, you can work not only from home but from anywhere in the world.

Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, Ministry of Tourism and Sports Thailand

“Filipinos enjoy traveling with their family while working at the same time,” notes Minister Phipat Ratchakitprakarn of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand, according to Petsuwan.

Petsuwan elaborates that this trend among young travelers started even before the pandemic. “Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai are already leading in this category,” he says.

Why? Thailand has the second-fastest fixed broadband in Southeast Asia, and co-working spaces can be found everywhere from department stores around Bangkok to those by the beach in Phuket or among the mountains in Chiang Mai.

Tates Petsuwan, Deputy Gov. of Intl. Marketing Asia and South Pacific

Still not convinced? All three digital nomad go-to's have an exciting third-wave coffee scene to caffeinate your perfect “workcation” — working and traveling at the same time. Imagine starting your day with a dive with the whale sharks at Koh Samui or sunrise yoga at Koh Lanta before clocking in, or clock out just in time for some crabmeat omelet at the Michelin-starred Jay Fai.

The biggest railway hub in Southeast Asia

While the city was in lockdown for the past two years, the government seized the chance to complete infrastructures to connect key points around the country efficiently while also decongesting the city center’s roads.

The Bang Sue Grand Station in Chatuchak in Bangkok is the country’s new railway hub and the largest in Southeast Asia, connecting intercity trains and buses from the capital to everywhere in the country.

Railay Beach Krabi

Prefer to stay in the city? They also completed the construction of an underground pass to access The Grand Palace, solving the heavy traffic problem of years past when tourists would get dropped off in front of the palace and cause backups.

This is also an effort to reduce crowds where they can. Petsuwan notes, “Social distancing is a must.”

Thailand beyond the usual

While there are a couple of exciting openings in Thailand’s hotspots (like The Standard Bangkok Mahanakhon spearheaded by Spanish artist Jamie Hayon and the crafts hub Kalm Village in Chiang Mai), Thailand decentralizes its attractions to different points around the country for every kind of travel style and goal.

Kaeng Tana National Park Tat Ton Waterfall

Chiang Rai — also located north of Thailand and close to Chiang Mai — has scenery of the mountains. At its heart is the unique fusion of modern art and traditional Buddhist beliefs at Wat Rong Khun, more popularly known as the White Temple.

Get physical and go hiking at Kaeng Tana National Park Tat Ton Waterfall or behold the limestone cliffs and emerald waters of Railay Beach in Krabi.

Temple of Dawn

Spiritual and seeking to reconnect? After revisiting the Temple of Dawn on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and the Wat Ratchanatdaram Woravihara Ratchaworamahawihan Temples, go down South and make the pilgrimage to the sacred Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan Temple in the Nakhon Si Thammarat Province. It is believed to house a tooth of Gautama Buddha.

Promoting responsible tourism

“Before the pandemic, Thailand welcomed over 40 million tourists. We have to accept that it created a huge damage to the tourist spots, whether it’s the National Park or the beautiful beaches in the southern part of Thailand. In the past two years without tourists, we zoom in on our natural resources,” says Petsuwan.

Wat Ratchanatdaram Woravihara Ratchaworamahawihan Temples

Missed out on Maya Bay, the white sand beach made famous by The Beach, when it closed in 2018? It is now open — but only if you’re one of 375 visitors allowed at one time. The pause has since allowed its ecosystem to recover from the impact of thousands of visitors since the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio made it famous in 2000.

Prefer to drive around the country? To reduce tourists’ carbon footprint, all additional cars will be set up with an application to control the number of vehicles in one place at the same time.

Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan Temple

Thailand is also carrying out its Upcycling The Ocean campaign, which transforms trash into fabric and yarn used by local fashion designers.

And because Thailand tourists always find their way back, Petsuwan shares, “This year, those who learned to dive in our diving schools will come back to help upcycle the ocean.”

Thailand’s approach to sustainability also goes beyond saving the environment. “Revenue from tourism will directly contribute to the local community,” Petsuwan adds.

More affordable fares?

Petsuwan says, “I’d be happy to negotiate an Amazing New Chapters break for tourists to visit in Thailand,” which means more airline partners for tourists from the Philippines and better fares.