[Thailand] Op-Ed: A win-win for Thai hospitality players to work with OTAs

Our Managing Director Chris Kerin highlights how OTAs and Thai hospitality players can give the industry a ‘booster shot’ through closer collaboration

Now that Thailand has exceeded 11 million in international visitor arrivals in 2022, we in the travel industry are met with mixed prospects. While the recovery figures offer reasons to be cheerful for 2023 and evidence for a full recovery by 2024, we are still faced with middling arrival statistics from China – not least a woeful global economic climate that will keep the lid on tourism demand. 

How, then, should the Thai tourism industry respond to remain competitive? How can Thailand remain the ‘destination of choice’ for the full gamut of tourists – ranging from sunseeking retirees to digital nomads?

For us, the Asia Travel Technology Industry Association (ATTIA), the answer would surely be to leverage digital channels, such as online travel agencies (OTAs), to increase the ‘discoverability’ of new accommodation providers and destinations throughout Thailand.

How else could travelers find and compare authentic experiences in Isaan or the southern coastal region, as easily as they could with accommodation in Bangkok? Platforms like Agoda, Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group, and Skyscanner offer our industry the necessary ‘scalability’ to recoup our lost pandemic income in less time.

In a new global travel environment where understanding data is key to winning travel strategies, online platforms only want a win-win situation where hospitality players, local communities and the government all benefit from increased tourism flow to Thailand. To illustrate, Expedia Group’s recent ‘No Normal’ study has found that travelers are opting for travel options which are “aligned with their personal value”, particularly with sustainability, inclusivity and accessibility in mind. 

 In this spirit, we see at least 3 unique roles for online travel platforms in the next phase of Thailand’s travel recovery.

1. OTA and STRA platforms are complementary to traditional channels, and can share information to support policymaking.

New travel customer segments – such as digital nomads, millennial travelers, and digital natives – are more likely to prefer a ‘digital-first’ travel journey which empowers them to compare options and freely make their own decisions. This does not cannibalize other segments which prioritize brand loyalty and associated rewards, and make bookings directly with hotels. 

In fact, an increasing number of hotels and serviced apartments are listing themselves on OTA platforms – precisely because they understand the range of new domestic and international guests that OTAs can bring to them. 

In short, this is not a ‘zero sum’ situation rife with market cannibalization. Consequently, OTA and STRA platforms are armed with crucial data on traveler preferences, and are keen to work closely with government authorities to enhance existing tourism policies and incentives. 

 2. OTA and STRA platforms help grow a diversified tourism industry

Online travel platforms are allowing travelers to discover and pursue unique travel experiences like never before – such as rural and ecotourism experiences. One emerging niche has been digital nomads, who tend to book longer stays in local communities. This has helped spread the gains from tourism more equitably throughout Thailand. 

Indeed, Airbnb’s recent ‘Further Afield: Spreading the Benefits of the Travel Revolution’ report finds precisely this. It adds that non-urban destinations have been receiving increasing interest in markets including Thailand. This has translated into greater economic empowerment of micro-enterprises and entrepreneurs outside popular tourist hotspots across Thailand (e.g., homestays, ecolodges). 

 3. OTA and STRA platforms support sustainable tourism beyond the hospitality industry

Beyond hospitality per se, such platforms have also been forerunners in mainstreaming the global push towards sustainable tourism. An increasing number of OTAs such as Booking.com are adding emissions information to their interfaces to ensure that consumers are better informed about their choices. 

More platforms are working to pair up users with authentic travel experiences (e.g., eco-tours, traditional cooking classes) which generate income sources for rural and traditionally-disadvantaged communities. For example, Airbnb has partnered with the Thai government to train micro-entrepreneurs in emerging destinations to do precisely this. 

 Ultimately, we invite our peers throughout the hospitality industry to realize new synergies which the tourism industry at-large can gain through collaboration with OTA and STRA platforms.  ATTIA and its members look forward to continue engaging the government and industry stakeholders to maintain Thailand’s leading position as a top-of-mind global destination for all consumer segments. 

Chris Kerin

ATTIA represents companies operating in the travel and tourism sector in the Asia-Pacific region, with technology and innovation at their core. Its members include Agoda, Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Amadeus, Travelport and Skyscanner.