March 21, 2014 00:00 By Bamrung Amnatcharoenrit
The Udon Thani Tourism Business Association will try hard to put the province on the world's tourism map over the next few years and promote it as one of the major destinations in Northeastern region.
Tanakorn Weerachatyanukul, who became the association’s president in January, said it was time Udon Thani made a name for itself as one of the major destinations in Isaan, not only among Thais but also foreigners, thanks to the readiness of its infrastructure.
Tanakorn, who owns the successful UD Town community mall in Muang Udon Thani, said he would promote his province internationally by attending tourism fairs in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand during his two-year term. Pattaya and Phuket are using a similar model. Starting this year, he will go overseas with the TAT as an observer to learn about these events before Udon Thani takes on this task by itself like other provinces.
He said the competitive edge of his province included its unspoiled nature, culture and lifestyle.
Udon Thani has strong fundamentals to support greater tourism, including hotel and airport facilities. Its strategic location is a key to connecting with neighbouring Laos and Vietnam, creating more tourist traffic.
To that end, the association will promote more aggressively a tourism scheme called “The Triangle of World Heritage Sites”. The travel programme will start at the Ban Chiang archaeological site in Udon Thani, go to Luang Prabang in Laos and end at Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam. Early this month, the association signed a memorandum of understanding with the TAT’s Udon Thani office and the local Chamber of Commerce to revive the three-country project before the Asean Economic Community kicks off next year.
Udon Thani International Airport can accommodate 20 flights per day, the most in the region but behind Phuket and Chiang Mai. Seven airlines from Singapore, Vietnam and China have shown an interest in flying to Udon Thani. Political trouble in Bangkok has led airlines to look for other places in the country to fly to directly, bypassing the capital city and minimising business risk.
The airport in Khon Kaen, another major province in the Northeastern region, handles only five flights a day. Tanakorn said the rising number of flights to Udon Thani would help push up tourist numbers and spur the provincial economy. About 2 million tourists visited Udon Thani province last year, bringing in revenue of Bt6 billion. Five per cent of the tourists were foreign. Over the next two years, the total number of tourists is projected to double and its revenue to grow by at least 5 per cent annually.
Tanakorn said his association hoped that the proportion of foreign tourists would be in the double digits within two years.
At present, there are about 6,000 hotel rooms in Udon Thani, and three-star properties dominate the market, with average room rates slightly over Bt1,000. Centara, part of Central Group, has the only four-star hotel there. New hotels are under construction, some under Vietnamese investment.