TTM : The art of romanticizing romance travel

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PATTAYA, 15 June 2018: Thailand’s top B2B travel show, Thailand Travel Mart Plus, closes Friday afternoon after two days of pre-arranged appointments between travel content providers and international tour operators.

Hosted in an elaborate marquee at Pattaya’s Ocean Marina, the event adopted a theme of “romance travel.”

The venue was packed with 280 travel content providers from Thailand and neighbouring Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

The organiser did away with the traditional 3 x 3 booths to save space. Instead the sellers had a table and chair for their 15-minute appointments with 300 buyers, mostly hosted from major country supply markets worldwide.

The neatly arranged tables and chairs created a positive business environment and for once the WI-FI worked throughout the venue. Of course, there were complaints, but the show’s logistics were handled professionally, despite the challenges of using a canvas venue. Is this the way forward for destinations who lack conference facilities to host the TTM?

The TTM’s theme romance travel, weddings and honeymoons is a niche market that many destinations in Thailand should explore as they seek to improve yield and attract high-spend or so-called “quality” tourists

But it’s a bit of a stretch to think that Pattaya can reach out to this lucrative market and topple the likes of Bali, a leader in the competitive romance and honeymoon space.

TAT officials optimistically said hosting the event in Pattaya was “designed to enhance its status as a high-end destination and a romantic venue for couples.”

There is a risk of being accused of romancing the travel story when you skirt  the realities of travel in a particular destination and create a message that could lack credibility with consumers.

But it is par for the course today with bloggers and social media influencers selling their skills to romance the story beyond reality and recognition. They will be working overtime in Pattaya this week. But it is not going to work.

Pattaya is anything but a high-end destination and the assumption that the bustling city by the sea has the ability to attract weddings and honeymoon groups seeking a memorable experience, possibly even a once-in-a-lifetime holiday requires a massive leap of the imagination.

Of course, there are exceptions such as the classy resorts and branded hotels on Jomtien bay south of main bay Pattaya.

But the more comfortable sell for Pattaya’s main bay is its unrivalled status as a racy, 24-hour fun city by the sea a place where you let your hair down.  It’s most famous for its saucy provocative entertainment streets and red light district, so it is hard to believe that this is a destination that could be perceived as romantic or fuzzy at the edges.  It is a far cry from the quiet idyllic honeymoon, or a posh beachfront wedding venue that would be the talk of the town for years to come.

Reputation is the core value that judges everything the travel industry presents and Pattaya doesn’t line up the reputation dots in order to claim romantic destination status.

Travel consumers are savvy. They cut through the words and romancing to identify reality. It’s seen in social media posts and popular review sites. They flame what comes across as fake or spin.

Pattaya would be better served by managing its nightlife scene. Zone it and ensure a secure environment. Beyond the main bay promote family travel, golf and sports events. They are less of a stretch.  Talking about romance travel suggests the challenges of security, pollution and ridding the seaside city of illegal accommodation have gone away for good.

There is no perception of romance on its crowded beaches, or its glitzy nightlife strips. If it had casinos (God forbid) it would be akin to a Las Vegas by the sea.

That’s not a necessarily a negative. Corporations would love it. They are always looking for destinations to take their sales staff for a weekend away for team building fun and world-class shows after hitting sales targets. But to cater to that market Pattaya has to raise its game in the entertainment world and it would start with moving its red light district away from its prime beachfront real estate, bidding for major regional sports events and adding more international theme parks.

Now I am romancing.

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