Help tourists discover true Thainess

Posted on March 31, 2015

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The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently launched a multi-million-baht tourism campaign to lure foreign visitors to the Land of Smiles under the banner ‘Discover Thainess’.

What they did not do is explain what “Thainess” is before unleashing their latest marketing ploy.

A catchy campaign and slogan with so much potential was immediately lost in translation. Tourists new to Thailand or who come for resort holidays in tourist provinces like Phuket likely have no idea what is meant by the word ‘Thainess’, or how they are supposed to discover it.

This became painfully clear in a recent Phuket Today segment, in which the crew went to Patong to ask tourists what they thought Thainess was, and if they had discovered it (click here to view video). The tourists responded with such answers as, “I don’t understand ‘Thainess’. What is it?” and “I have no idea.”

In the segment, Anoma Wongyai, president of the TAT Phuket office, described Thainess as “the way of Thai life, culture and traditions. What Thai people do in their daily lives.” She went on to say that it should highlight some of the most beloved elements of Thai culture, such as Thai cooking and boxing, as well as the warm smiles of Thai people.

Ms Anoma said that Thai people should be proud to showcase these aspects of their lives and culture to the world, and she is right.

However, it is difficult to understand Thainess without ever having been to the country or interacted with its people. Rather than expecting a clever slogan to do all the work for them, the TAT should have been prepared to launch the campaign in a way that highlights the true meaning of Thainess so that tourists can look out for it or plan their holiday so that it includes a trip to a temple, muaythai fight or a cooking class.

I have discovered Thainess many times on this island, which far too often gets a bad rap from those who have been jaded by a bad experience or two. I never discovered Thainess during nights out in Patong or when visiting tourist attractions. I discovered it in everyday life, when interacting with locals and doing everyday tasks.

Perhaps the TAT could approach tour companies with a option that highlights more everyday “Thai” experiences – promote trips that take tourists to one of the many weekly markets or leave them to explore Phuket Old Town for a day. They should promote the temple and food festivals and have hotels notify guests of the lesser-known coffee shops or swanky Phuket Town bars.

Some tourists will prefer their resort holidays, but some will want to go after the culture-finding
experience, and that’s who TAT needs to target with this campaign.

All they need to do is explain what Thainess is and tell tourists where they might find it.
There are so many ways to discover Thainess in Phuket, but it won’t be in a resort, at a go-go bar or inside a tourist trap.

This article first appeared in the March 28-April 3 issue of the hard-copy Phuket Gazette newspaper. Digital subscribers may download the full newspaper, this week and every week, by clicking here.

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