CHIANG MAI, 16 June 2017: Community-based tourism in Mae Hong Son could be a highlight for package tours from Europe, but it would require direct flight links to the far-northwest province from the Thai capital.
A recent inspection tour carried out by three UK tour operators led by Tourism Authority of Thailand’s head of marketing, Chris Lee, suggested Mae Hong Son had plenty of potential, but the programmes needed to be adapted to attract European visitors.
Lee told TTR Weekly the province community-based visits would have to combine a route featuring Mae Hong Son and Pai, a backpacker haven halfway to Chiang Mai.
“The consensus was community-based visits cannot be extended for two to three days in one single destination. There has to be a journey… To cater to European visitors the stakeholders have to pair the two destination as partners rather than competitors.”
The natural route would be to fly visitors directly from Bangkok to Mae Hong Son and then travel overland with stops at community projects on the way culminating with a stay in Pai before visiting Chiang Mai.
There have been no direct flights from Bangkok since Thai Airways international stopped its twice daily 737 flights 20 years ago.
The move virtually moth-balled Mae Hong Son in terms of international tourism, while Pai prospered as a backpackers’ chill-out spot served by flights from Chiang Mai.
Bangkok Airways offers a twice daily ATR 72 flight to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai, (0930 and 1530), but Lee told TTR Weekly that in his opinion the ideal tour route would start in Bangkok with a flight to Mae Hong-Son and then overland to Chiang Mai.
“It would appeal to the European market and also benefit community-based attractions to establish a route offering special travel experiences, paired with Pai.”
That would take a change in thinking as the small tourism industry in Mae Hong Son view Pai as a competitor that over the years has overshadowed the provincial capital.
As for airlines pioneering a direct route commercial interests will prevail and the chances of Mae Hong Son finding its way back to mainstream domestic airline services from the Thai capital are be slim at best.
Mae Hong Son province has 13 community-based projects across the province. They attract mainly visitors from Europe. Most Chinese and Asian visitors travel to Pai, chill-out and return to Chiang Mai without visiting Mae Hong Son.