Always Vacation’s owner and director of sales and marketing, Wanvisa Chantrasmi, on working with film crews coming to New Zealand, the power of social media and business after Tourism New Zealand exited Thailand in December.
We are a Bangkok-based travel agent specialising in trips to New Zealand for small groups and free independent travellers (FITs). We take care of everything for our clients from air tickets through to accommodation, activities, and car rental.
My company, Always Vacation, has one office in Bangkok with around eight staff and we are certified by Tourism New Zealand as a ‘100% Pure New Zealand specialist’.
Since the business was launched seven years ago, we have seen a rise in online travel agents (OTA) which means people are now making more direct bookings. We see OTA’s as our main competition for the FIT market, especially those who have had experience travelling to other countries and have good English – they have the confidence to book direct.
We understand that the world is changing, we can’t ignore it, we just have to prove that we will get the best result for our clients and their trips to New Zealand. The advantage that we have is that many of our clients are cash rich but time poor, so prefer to use an agent to make all the bookings.
One way we have found that has really helped our reputation as NZ specialists, is the work we have done with Thai television and media companies in recent years. In 2016 we were contacted by a media company and asked to look after a group that was coming to NZ to do some filming. We have done three more trips since then and are currently organising for a production company to travel to New Zealand in November to film for a TV series that will be screened back here in Thailand.
When these companies mention our name to others, or post about us on social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, or when their shows are on television, people realise we are experts and know how to look after them if they want to film in NZ for TV shows or advertising.
We have noticed a growing number of people want to travel to New Zealand from Thailand, although we were worried about what would happen to the market when Tourism New Zealand decided to close its office in Bangkok.*
The main thing we have noticed this year since TNZ left is that we have to work a lot more closely with our tour operator, Pan Pacific, and also directly with the Regional Tourism Organisations and suppliers. Pan Pacific is a very good tour operator and they give us a lot of support but it is very time consuming having to manage all these relationships and channels without any support from TNZ.
While there is lot of interest from visitors from Thailand in travelling to New Zealand, it is quite an expensive destination, especially the air ticket. Often when people are comparing NZ with Europe they will decide to go to Europe because there are so many more airlines servicing those routes the pricing is more competitive and there are often promotional prices.
The other thing with Europe is that you can travel to many countries in one trip, whereas if you go to NZ it is just one country. But Thai visitors do really love the landscape and the people in New Zealand – when they come home they are always very satisfied with their trips. The problem for us as travel agents is a shortage of accommodation in places like Tekapo and Mount Cook.
Also, in terms of activities, New Zealand can end up being very expensive. Because it is a long way to go, people do want to do a lot of activities but the price adds up, especially again when you compare it with Europe where there are free options for sightseeing such as historic buildings or museums.
However, many of my customers want to return to New Zealand again after their first trip. Most often the go to the South Island first, so the second time they want to go to the North Island and then they want to go back for a third time to do everything they didn’t do on their first two trips. I always get repeat clients.
*In August last year TNZ announced that it was consolidating its focus in the South East Asia region and closed its Thailand office in December 2016. The fix-funded organisation had two fixed-term employees in Bangkok.
TNZ’s then chief executive, Kevin Bowler, said that the limited investment it has been making in the market “was making limited impact but stretching our resource and focus.”
Visitor arrivals from Thailand had grown from 17,000 in 2006 to 24,000 in June 2016.