Tourists “expect big discounts’ after tsunami

LAGUNA: Thailand used to be the most popular destination for customers of the Thomas Cook company, but the country has “slipped” because of the tsunami, Joanna Edmunds, Managing Director of Thomas Cook Signature, told local tourism operators yesterday.

The immediate solution, she said, will be to offer “very, very attractive prices”.

She warned the meeting, at the Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, that tourists are expecting “bargains” in the tsunami-hit areas. “We don’t like it any more than you do, but that, unfortunately, is the reality.”

She added that Phuket was facing tough competition from other long-haul destinations. Some, including those in the Caribbean, “which you would think would be full after [the tsunami], are offering very, very attractive prices,” said Ms Edmunds.

She continued, “We have to move into a new phase, to bring customers back. We need to reassure customers, and offer very attractive deals to tempt people to come here … to kick-start the market.”

She added, “We’re very anxious to help you rebuild your businesses and get back to the top spot.”

But, she said, “Customers are still unclear. There has been an enormous amount of coverage of the tsunami in the UK. We need education to help them understand what the situation really is, and help reassure them.”

She added that it may take “a prolonged period of communication” to persuade British vacationers to return to Phuket.

Ms Edmunds was one of six tour company representatives from the UK and Ireland who came to Phuket at the weekend to see for the themselves the extent of the damage caused by the tsunami and to discuss ways of attracting tourists from Europe back to Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi.

Another of the six, Kuoni Travel Ltd’s Product Director Francis Torrilla, said Thailand has for many years been a top destination for his company. In 2004, Thailand was the most popular, ahead of the Maldives, Egypt, Sri Lanka and the United States.

Despite the tsunami, he said, Kuoni expects Thailand to remain number one in 2005.

However, he noted, “long-haul” trips are becoming more popular with UK vacationers. He suggested, therefore, that Thai Airways International (THAI) could help Phuket compete by operating direct flights between the UK and the island.

THAI, which was one of the organizers of yesetrday’s meeting, has yet to relaunch any of the international direct services to Phuket that it cut soon after the tsunami.

The TAT’s Marketing Director for the UK, Richard Hume, was, predictably, optimistic. He said, “We have to accept that the peak season [for tsunami-affected areas] won’t come back in a couple of months, but it will definitely come back.

“We [at the TAT] are working very hard to get those markets back to you by mid-year.

“Everything is possible with our market. We have airline capacity which is improving the UK market … We are very confident that the UK and Ireland market will return very strongly.”

Keith Betton, Head of Corporate Communications for the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), which represents 6,500 travel agents and 850 tour operators, said that, at the moment, the main source of information for people in the UK planning vacations is TV coverage of the tsunami, most of which is negative.

The task now, he said, is to educate potential customers about the real situation in tsunami-affected areas.

He said, “When I return [to the UK], I will be going on TV programs and this should help to redress some of the imbalance that has been in some of the national press.”

Phuket News

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