As Chinese travel is evolving, so do the marketing campaigns of organizations and destinations aiming to attract Chinese travelers. Thailand, a tourism destination so popular and well-known that it arguably markets itself, is betting on gastronomy for its latest tourism campaign. With Chinese free independent travelers (FITs) on the rise—and only projected to keep growing—leveraging authentic cultural resources such as culinary experiences and other unique traits is proving increasingly useful in winning over the hearts and minds of Chinese consumers.

Cultural resources are proving increasingly useful in winning over the hearts and minds of Chinese consumers.

According to Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, gastronomy now constitutes almost one-third of tourism spending in Thailand, but this proportion could be even higher given the right marketing efforts. Last year, gastronomy tourism accounted for over $9.9 billion in tourist revenue in Thailand, trailing only accommodation and shopping as the primary sources of tourism revenues.

Unsurprisingly, China—Thailand’s largest international tourism market—leads the pack in tourism spending on food and beverages, representing over $2.5 billion in gastronomy spending in 2016. This number is more than four times higher than for the second biggest source of culinary tourism revenues—Russia.

Chinese travelers spend more than four times as much on food than any other group of travelers

Betting on the future growth of its third most significant source of tourism revenue, Thailand is launching a campaign called Amazing Thailand Tourism Year 2018 with a strong focus on the country’s local experiences, including its renowned cuisine. However, Thailand is intent on broadening the scope of the campaign to include luxurious local experiences rather than only focusing on the perhaps most local cuisine of all: street food. According to a report in the Bangkok Post, EM District, one of the country’s top luxury retail operators, will also take part of the campaign by organizing “an exclusive Bangkok event for food lovers” attended by world-renowned chefs.

While the focus of the tourism campaign may be to highlight authentic local flavors and experiences, Thailand also wants to emphasize that it’s a world-class destination for international cuisine as well.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Thai tourism authority pledged five-year financial support to a project that will bring the Michelin Guide to Thailand, making it the sixth place in Asia with its own Michelin Guide. While updates on the project have been scarce since the official announcement back in February, a launch of the guide which coincides with the Amazing Thailand Tourism Year 2018 seems likely, especially considering the tourism authority’s financial support of the project.

the upcoming michelin guide to thailand may prove helpful in promoting thai gastronomy

Thailand’s decision to focus on authentic local experiences and its gastronomic strengths makes for a healthy positioning in the Chinese tourism market, where Thailand has quickly become a staple destination for travelers.

However, Thailand’s steady rise to become perhaps the most important foreign destination for Chinese travelers has not been without its troubles. In 2016, a crackdown on so-called zero-dollar or forced shopping tours caused turbulence in the market and Chinese tourism growth to Thailand to slow down significantly.  Blaming such tours for causing lost tourism revenue and tax-evasion among zero-dollar tour operators, Thailand set its sights on higher-revenue tourism from China while neighbors picked up its slack in zero-dollar travel from China.

Independent travelers and other high-end market segments are the future

Instead, hoping to promote the image of itself as a first-class tourism destination rather than as a budget getaway, Thailand is increasingly targeting Chinese independent travelers and other higher-end market segments in China. These market segments, which value authenticity and unique experiences, are undoubtedly the core targets of Thailand’s new tourism campaign.

With overcrowding already a problem in popular destinations, focusing marketing efforts on the higher-end (and more independent) parts of the market could prove not only more profitable but also more in line with the direction in which global Chinese travel is heading.

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Destinations, Travel Trends