Business leaders from tech, hospitality, data and dining gather at Thailand’s most significant travel and tourism event.
Thailand’s position as the world’s leading “lifestyle” travel destination was the hot topic of debate at Thailand Tourism Forum 2024 (TTF), held at InterContinental Bangkok today, as AI emerged as a critical driver to the future success of the country’s tourism industry.
Bill Barnett founded TTF, Thailand’s leading travel and tourism discussion platform. Industry leaders from the government and private sectors come together each year in January at the eagerly awaited annual forum for insights and indicators for the industry’s future trends.
“Every tourism outfit and hotel are AI companies whether they realize it or not,” said Mr Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks. “With the lightening development of AI, this is a call to action for hospitality to return to its roots of a service culture as technology frees up human resources and allows our industry to focus on what is important – people. AI is not a shadow cast over hospitality, and it’s a bright shining light.”
The myth that AI is creating a less personable industry was busted by a keynote speaker from Google Thailand, Aditip Panupong (Term), Industry Head of Strategic Partnerships. “With travellers spending more time planning, businesses can leverage AI to simplify their journey and make their experiences more personalized and seamless than ever before,” he said in front of over 1,000 registered participants listening to the debate on the sector’s future.
Thailand’s tourism journey is a 40-year-plus story, but its evolution emphasizes experience, reflecting changing tastes and aspirations. This proves that “lifestyle” is the new tourism mantra, transcending tiers of hotels and focusing on individual, bite-sized travel encounters. It has taken creativity and innovation, vital to keeping delegates heard.
“With its long tourism history, entrepreneurial spirit, design interest and attraction from investors, it makes perfect sense that this segment is growing in Thailand. Naturally we see more hotels coming up primarily in Bangkok and Phuket, but there is also an interest in smaller markets across the country when you look at the hotel pipeline,” said Jesper Palmqvist, Senior Director Asia Pacific – STR, a CoStar Group company.
Of the critical lifestyle drivers – localised experiences, design, art, wellbeing and technology – F&B has been a dominant factor. “Gastronomy has been central in creating elevated lifestyle experiences in Thailand,” said Tourism Authority of Thailand Deputy Governor Nithee Seeprae. “The Michelin Guide has promoted high-quality dining in Thailand around the world and we will continue to build and enlarge this profile moving forward.”
If there was one hotel that has done more to highlight “lifestyle” than any other, it is the pioneering IHG’s Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok, one of the first hotels in Thailand to allow pets.
“For us it is what we call the discovery effect to create engagement. Our guests identify with it whether it is through F&B, grass roots collaborations or personal delivery. We very much focus on people rather than roles in our hiring. This makes a huge difference,” said Patrick Both, Regional General Manager – Luxury and Lifestyle Thailand, IHG Hotels & Resorts.
Individualism, privacy and unique dining experiences are the keys for Iniala Group, with the ultra-chic celebrity hideaway of Iniala Beach House showcasing this on Natai Beach, just north of Phuket.
“Our world revolves around the individual. We create exceptional choices and experiences for our guests,” said Mark Weingard, Founder of Iniala Group, who recently opened Aulis, a 15-seat chef’s table experience at Iniala Beach House run by Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan and executive chef Oli Marlow.
TTF 2024 is presented with its leading industry partners InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, STR, Horwath HTL, JLL Hotels and Hospitality, QUO, AMCHAM Thailand, Delivering Asia Communications, Creative Concept AV, Phuket Hotels Association and host venue the InterContinental Bangkok.
Written by: Andrew Wood