Surfing online one day, I was checking a Facebook news feed when I came across the TAT governor's fan page: IamSuraphon. Seeing a lot of information about tourist attractions and festivals in Thailand listed there, I realised for the first time how seriously the Tourism Authority of Thailand is viewing the Net, and social networking sites in particular, as a marketing tool.
Apart from its official website (www.tourismthailand.org), the TAT also has several social network accounts while its governor, Suraphon Svetasreni, has his own Facebook page and a Twitter account (at https://twitter.com/IamSuraphon).
"The TAT has been implementing our marketing policies by focusing on digital marketing and social media to promote the positive image of Thailand and foster the strength of the Thai tourism industry," the governor said.
According to Suraphon, digital media allows the TAT to access more social networks and expand its customers' bases worldwide, increasing loyalty to the "Amazing Thailand" brand. The TAT has been improving work procedures, creating databases, doing public relations via online communities and developing presentation techniques through new channels, such as Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.
In 2012, the TAT's main website (www.tourismthailand.org) achieved 130 million page views and attracted 20 million visitors. The organisation's social networks were also checked by 50 million visitors, with more than 530 million impressions.
A meta search engine was installed on this website to allow visitors access to over 200,000 tourism entrepreneurs and travel agencies in Thailand via the hotel, car rental, flight and tourism service price-comparison website Zizzee.
In addition, the TAT has collaborated with OTA (over-the-air programming) and some other partners to develop its main website as a one-stop service centre. This will ensure convenience for tourists worldwide and create more marketing channels for tourism business operators. This is expected to effectively raise the number of Free Independent Travellers (FIT) to Thailand.
The TAT's newly opened online community named Amazing Thailand, on LINE application, attracts more than 80 million users worldwide and over two million of these have become members of both the official account and the "sticker" version.
TAT governor Suraphon Svetasreni.
"This year, the TAT gave a facelift to its website and launched the Discover the Other You Campaign, the location-based Amazing Thailand Mobile Application and special applications like Green Tourism, Thailand Medical Tourism, Speak Thai, Lifestyle Thailand, Amazing Thailand Grand Sale and more," Suraphon added.
At the provincial and local levels, the TAT's local offices mostly have their own Facebook pages to promote local tourism. Besides, some of them have opted for using quick response (QR) codes for tourists to access information about tourist spots in each province. For example, the TAT's Phrae office last year came up with a QR code for tourists to use their smart phones to connect to a website that give information about the history of Phrae and major tourist attractions there via text, maps, pictures and video footage.
"The TAT uses social media as another major channel to promote Thai tourism and communicate with Thai and foreign tourists. It is a way to provide tourism information and respond to tourists' inquiries and opinions and allow fan-page members to exchange information and viewpoints," the TAT governor said.
The TAT staff who take care of the Amazing Thailand fan page on Facebook answer questions, find solutions to problems and provide information for tourists around the clock in order to ensure the most precise, speedy and effective information service. This fan page has approximately 350,000 members while the TAT's twitter accounts (http://twitter.com/go2thailand and http://twitter.com/thailandfanclub) have more than 100,000 Thai-speaking followers and 10,000 English-speaking followers, according to Thapanee Kiatphaibool, director of TAT's Marketing Information Technology Group.
The TAT has also used social media in times of crisis in order to minimise negative impressions of Thailand. For example, it ran the Wish You Were Here online campaign via YouTube and uploaded information and pictures to www.thailandtourismupdate.com in order to restore foreigners' confidence about travelling here following the devastating floods of 2011.
While the organisation has claimed success in communicating with target groups via social media under the Amazing Thailand brand, a number of its executives and locally based staff have been sharing their travel experiences and information about Thai tourism on their social media pages.
To maintain its leading role in digital marketing in Asia and increase its international reach, the TAT has come up with development plans and new channels to attract more user groups. It has given importance to online marketing, in the run-up to the 2015 launch of the Asean Economic Community, by focusing on "engagement" to maintain current customers, attract new ones and create connections between products and tourist attractions. To attain that goal, it has been implementing the concepts of Social Customer Relationship Management, Location Based Service and Loyalty Marketing to continue Thai tourism promotion and find new markets using location-based marketing.
Furthermore, the TAT has highlighted marketing through mobile phone applications for tourists. This year it launched a new application named Thiew Huajai Mai for updating information and promotional packages related to sustainable tourism.
Its new smart-phone applications (for iPhone and Android users) have so far been used by 17 million people in Thailand to check updated tourism information. The Augmented Reality system enables users to see symbols and information about tourism located in their vicinity. Tourists can peruse interactive maps on their smart phones, search for information through the QR code-scanner system and share their travel experiences on Facebook.
Next year, the TAT plans to enter collaborative venture with Trip Advisor, Google and LINE. It will, for example, begin including Trip Advisor reviews on www.tourismthailand.org. It has already linked up with the Google Street View programme which displays panoramic photos of major tourist attractions on Google Maps. Pics of only three destinations (Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket) are included so far but there are plans afoot to create street views for the country's various World Heritage sites.
Smile Land, the TAT's first online game on Facebook, was introduced to promote Thai tourism using gamification (marketing via games). Smile Land mini games are now supported on iPhone, iPad, Android, Nokia Ovi and WindowsPhone platforms and new games will be introduced to highlight festivals and other events of interest around the country. Examples will include the New Year celebrations in Loei's Chiang Khan district, Children's Day at the Prommitr Film Studio in Kanchanaburi and a celebration of Makha Bucha in Nakhon Pathom.
Nor has the TAT overlooked the significance of major foreign markets which have their own social networks. For instance, it has started to penetrate online communities in China to promote the attractions of this country and has also opened official "Amazing Thailand" accounts on the following social networks in the People's Republic: QQ Zone; RenRen (aka Chinese Facebook); Weibo (aka Chinese Twitter); and Youku (aka Chinese YouTube).
"The TAT hopes the use of different proactive marketing strategies that suit different markets will lead to major increases in tourist arrivals and incomes for Thailand," its governor noted.