The hosting of the PATA Destination Marketing Forum by the Province of Khon Kaen in Northeastern Thailand gives hopes to the provincial administration to position the city as a top destination in Thailand. Will it succeed to become an alternative destination to Chiang Mai or Phuket for travellers?
Khon Kaen is not such an easy destination to sell to foreign travellers. At first sight, Khon Kaen – one of the four most populated cities in Isan with around 145,000 inhabitants- looks like any average Thai city. Its streets are lined with concrete constructions dating back from the 1970s and 1980s mostly. The city has a few monuments such as the City Hall and the Provincial Hall as well as a couple of temples, not to forget a few recent shopping malls. Enough to attract tourists?
This is where the PATA Destination Marketing Forum could be the right opportunity to highlight Khon Kaen differently, “This event has been created from a need to help secondary and tertiary areas to grow and develop into widely recognized tourism destinations. It also fits our advocacy theme of tourism dispersal and bring tourism benefits to less known or emerging destinations,” highlighted PATA CEO Mario Hardy.
” I am so delighted that Khon Kaen was selected to represent the Northeatern or Isan Thai local culture at PATA event. It will help us to position ourselves to an international audience,” said Somasak Chantragul, Governor of the Province. PDMF registered 290 delegates from 25 countries, an opportunity to expose indeed Khon Kaen.
“Khon Kaen is geographically ideally located. We have an airport linked to Bangkok, Phuket and Hat Yai, soon to be joined by a new service to U-Tapao Pattaya. We are at the crossroads of the North-South and East-West Economic Corridors. Over the next three years, we will be part of the new high speed rail linking Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima and connecting further to Laos and Yunnan. We are increasingly recognized as the transportation hub of the entire Isan region” stressed further the Governor.
While the location of Khon Kaean is definitely an asset, it is now the turn to the Tourism Authority of Thailand as well as Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau to come up with plans to turn Khon Kaen into a desirable tourism destination. And the task is enormous.
” We welcome five million domestic and international tourists but international arrivals are just a fraction of that total,” admits TAT Deputy Governor for International Marketing for Overseas Markets Mrs. Srisuda Wanaphinyosak. Total foreign arrivals reached close to 77,000 in 2017. Surprisingly, European markets represent the bulk of foreign visitors with France generating 5,500 arrivals followed by Germany and the UK, both generating over 3,300 travellers in 2017. Japan, the USA and Laos are generating also relatively strong number of visitors to Khon Kaen province.
What are then Khon Kaen assets to get more exposure? With its relatively good infrastructure and many hotels (the city counts close to 10,000 rooms including 5 four and five-star properties offering 725 rooms), the city is already identified as one of the five MICE cities of Thailand, According to TCEB, 19 venues in Khon Kaen can accommodate up to 29,000 delegates. Last year saw indeed the opening of KICE (Khon Kaen International Convention and Exhibition Centre), a private project of THB 1.8 billion with a total surface of 14,000 m2.
It is now time to entertain delegates visiting Khon Kaen. The Provincial Governor and TAT are now looking at ways to entice travellers to extend their stay.
“Our textile production of Ikat, which is unique in Thailand, should soon be named by UNESCO as a World Intangible Heritage. We worked hard to get that recognition and it will help to bring more people interested in culture to our place. We also have in the province some of the largest remains of dinosaurs. We are now looking to turn the dinosaur area around Phu Wiang Mountains where Thailand largest dinosaurs’ museum is settled. We work now with UNESCO to turn the area into a Geopark,” adds Khon Kaen Provincial Governor Somsak Chantragul.
“Main strategy is to link together MICE business with leisure, the so-called bleisure segment. They are also opportunities for water sport tourism. Lakes in Khon Kaen offer a great opportunity for water activities such as jet-ski or boat races. This is a focus that we are looking at. We need also to evaluate the city’s assets and create more experience for travellers related to the culture and history in town. It is also a process of educating locals to make them more aware of Khon Kaen strength,” explains Siriwan Seeharach, Director TAT Khon Kaen.
Story telling will certainly be where Khon Kaen tourism future stands. Giving an identity to make the destination easily identified by tourists around the world. And not to let it know only as a transportation hub along the East/West and North/South Corridor…