Promoting South-North travel

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CHIANG RAI, 8 August 2018: New travel routes that combine southern beach resorts in Thailand with Chiang Rai in the far north should be explored, explains Tourism Authority of Thailand Chiang Rai office director Karuna Dechatiwong.

Chiang Rai’s third director in just six years, Karuna moved north earlier this year after completing a three-year assignment in Trang.

Prior to her Trang posting, she worked at the TAT office in Frankfurt for four years and completed a stint handling events at TAT’s head office.

TAT Chiang Rai office director Karuna Dechatiwong

Trang is about as far down the Andaman coast as you can go, just 137 km short of Satun, the closest city to the Malaysian border and the ferries that take travellers to Langkawi Island.

Now Karuna is assigned to promoting tourism to far-north Chiang Rai the only Thai province to share its borders with two neighbouring countries; Laos and Myanmar.  Her office is just 60 km from the border town of Mae Sai that faces Tachilek in Myanmar.

During October to March, Thais from cities across the country travel to Chiang Rai and cross the border to Myanmar on pilgrimages that visit Buddhist temples in the Shan State town of Keng Tung, 160 km inland from Tachilek.

Around 80% of all the 2 million tourists who visit Chiang Rai province are Thais, prompting Karuna to say there is potential to sell travel between the far south coastal town of Trang and Chiang Rai.

The recent introduction of a daily direct airline service between Chiang Rai and Phuket means Trang residents would need to travel 264 km to Phuket airport to connect with the two-hour flight to Chiang Rai. The bus trip north is hardly a viable option. That alternative takes 23 hours for a roundtrip fare close to THB2,000, almost on par with Vietjet’s airfare.

Karuna is convinced that residents in coastal towns, such as Trang and Krabi, both within reach of Phuket airport, could be persuaded to buy holiday packages to Chiang Rai.

One of TAT’s strategies is to persuade international tourists visiting gateway destinations such as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai to travel to secondary destinations such as Chiang Rai.

Karuna is convinced that developing community-based tourism content, promoting organic farms and visits to coffee and tea plantations are priorities. Chiang Rai is already famous for its popular temple tours, visits to the Golden Triangle, shopping trips to Mae Sai border town and Chiang Rai’s night bazaar.

“Chiang Rai needs more flights even for domestic tourists,” she said, noting that charter flights from China were established for the first time this year.

“There has been an increase in visitors from Hong Kong after flights were started and the province’s organic farms and restaurants have been promoted with a video targeting a Chinese audience.”

She identifies the need to promote silver generation or seniors’ travel, spas, golf and family activities.

As for the immediate future she believes Chiang Rai needs direct flight from South Korea and Taiwan to boost international arrivals.

“There is interest in Chiang Rai from travel companies in South Korea… we need to encourage a charter series,” she said.

In the meantime, she says the priority is to encourage airlines serving destinations along the Andaman coast — Phuket, Krabi and Trang — to consider starting direct flights that link the three Andaman coastal airports with destinations in North Thailand.

Chiang Rai’s airport has two daily direct routes southbound; one to Phuket served by Vietjet and the other Hat Yai served by Thai AirAsia. Both are packed out daily.

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