Inbound agents check out Loei
BANGKOK, 1 August 2012: Loei, a province in the upper western side of the Northeast, well known in the domestic travel market has potential to appeal to European travellers looking for cultural and green tourism experiences.
But Loei’s tourism need to iron out glitches and upgrade products to meet the challenge. That was the conclusion of a 28 to 30 July, Association of Thai Tourism Marketing survey.
Thailand’s newest tourism association led tour operators from various markets on a survey trip to Loei, following an earlier effort that studied Kang Krachan National Park last June.
Its latest venture covered Lomsak in Phetchaboon province, visiting Sri Thep Historical Park, then Loei travelling via Dansai district with a stop at the famous Phi Ta Khon Musuem, Phra That Si Song Rak Pagoda and a green resort, Phunacome. The survey also made pit stops at Chateau de Loei winery and Lung Wut Garden in Phu Rua district before visiting Loei Musuem in the province’s old town hall; an old riverside community, Kud Ku Rapid and Tai Dam village in Chiang Khan district and Suan Hin Pha Ngam rock garden in Nong Hin district.
ATTM president and Image D’Asie managing director, Mingkwan Metmowlee, told TTR Weekly during the trip that some places in Loei had potential to be combined in tour programmes, but the drawback was the lack of international standards in accommodation, restaurants and services.
Currently, only 2% of all tourists who visit Loei are foreigners. Last year, it tallied around 9,800 international tourists while domestic tourists stood well above 450,000.
Of all international visitors, neighbouring Laos supplied the most (approximately 1,100) and they came mainly from Sayabouly province. They were taking a shortcut through Thailand to avoid hilly and bumpy roads and to cut the travel time to the Lao capital, Vientiane.
France and Netherlands were second and third with around 700 tourists.
There are a handful of three to four-star resorts, but they offer no more than 30 rooms each. Restaurants are also very small, leaving very few choices for group tours.
Loei is one of the few towns in Thailand that had successfully kept mega shopping malls and stores at bay. But that also underscores the shortcomings, too, for resort and restaurant owners who will need to travel around 60 km to stock up their kitchens. The first big retail store is due to open today in the provincial town.
“Loei should be appeal to French, Germans, Spanish and Dutch tourists who like to explore culture and the local way of life.
“Specifically most of my clients are French and they would definitely come here because they love to explore. We need to be honest and inform them in advance about the level of services so that they are prepared,” she said.
Tour operators gave the province the thumbs down as far as the Russian and Asian markets were concerned claiming they seek beach and urban destinations, but there could be a thin slice of agro-tourism from academics, students and civil servants. Japanese visit Dan Sai during the Phi Ta Khon Festival and numbers are growing. Backpackers are another group that could grow because they have no problem staying in a guest houses and are looking for new destinations to escape mass tourism.
The most feasible itinerary for an overland group tour would include Phitsanulok using the route of the traditional Around the North programmes, but instead of going up to Chiang Mai, the route would head for Phetchaboon and then Dansai in Loei province.
However, individual travellers could fly direct to Loei or Phitsanulok or Udon Thani and rent a car to explore the “west side of the Northeast.”
At the close of the survey, the top most voted site was Phunacome Resort based on its green practices, organic farming and activities that reflected local life and wisdom; Phi Ta Khon Museum for its distinctive local culture; Loei Museum for history and an overview of the province and Suan Hin Pha Ngam or Rock Garden for natural wonders. However, the museums, though the displays were interesting and the local guides passionate, there was not even a hint of a foreign language either in script or verbal explanations.
Chiang Khan’s old community of wooden shop houses on the Mekong River, so-called cultural street famous among domestic tourists failed to impress tour operators. It did not reflect much culture and as far as walking streets go, it was not lively. But it should be packed during winter. Despite changes, it is still less commercial than Pai in Mae Hong Son.
Tourism Authority of Thailand director, Loei office, Achaphan Bunchareon, explained efforts to attract more travel from Laos especially expatriate living in Vientiane.
“On weekends, they usually cross to Thailand to visit Nong Khai and Udon Thani so we would like to show them alternatives. A recent road show to Vientiane, helped to us gain some business. This year, we would like to conduct another road show in September,but it will depend on the budget,” the director said.
“I don’t want to promote the province too much at international level, not just yet. This is because entrepreneurs are not ready especially in terms of language. Last year TAT organised English courses for locals by bringing in a volunteer, but the project has not been re-introduced this year.”