BANGKOK, Thailand – Golfasian Co. Ltd., Southeast Asia’s leading golf tour operator, has reported a 23% increase in turnover for the 12-month period ending November 2009. This boost in golf holiday traffic runs counter to the largely sluggish demand in global tourism and belies the negative travel perceptions prompted by Thailand’s ongoing political disquiet.
Moreover, Bangkok-based Golfasian (www.golfasian.com) has expanded its headquarters in the Thai capital and established satellite operations in the Thai cities of Hua Hin, Pattaya, Phuket and Chiang Mai, while founding similar beachheads in Vietnam (Saigon and Hanoi), Cambodia (Siem Reap) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).
“This expansion will further enhance the company’s service reputation and market-leading position with Asian golfers and travel agents, but also with golfers and our new partners in North America and Europe,” says Mark Siegel, managing director of Golfasian.
“While most companies here complained about the drop in arrivals during 2009, and cut their marketing expenditures, we increased our spending. By reaching out to overseas agents and golfing clients, we’ve been able to convince them of the tremendous value of our golf tours, especially multi-destination tours and those which combine golf and cultural travel.”
Golfasian spearheads “Golf In A Kingdom: The Thai Golf Experience” (www.golfinakingdom.com), a regional golf course and hotel cooperative in Thailand. It is also the official tour operator of a similar consortium in Vietnam, The Ho Chi Minh Golf Trail (www.hochiminhgolftrail.com).
Siegel believes that Golfasian’s growth over the last 12 months has resulted in part from a major marketing push in North America, launched in cooperation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (www.tourismthailand.org), and Australia. Both regions had been essentially untapped by SE Asian golf tour operators until now. Golfasian and TAT collaborated in early November on large-scale North American media FAM.
However, Siegel also believes the diversity of Golfasian tours has kindled interest from all markets, long and short haul. He pointed to the fact that Golfasian now books trips to the Malaysian island of Langkawi (home to the elegant Golf Club at Datai Bay), or the East Malaysian hub of Kota Kinabalu – home to the posh Shangri La Rasa Ria Resort.
“Our determination to provide multi-destination, multi-country trips that combine golf and culture and great shopping has really paid off,” says Siegel, who added that Golfasian is seeking additional agent partners in select countries across North America and Europe. “It’s more complicated on our end; more relationships must be established ahead of time, of course. But it has been well worth it.
“This may sound heretical to some, but you can’t play golf every day. We now offer a trip that starts in Bangkok, heads up to Siem Reap (Cambodia), then goes over to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. There’s great golf and at least one UNESCO World Heritage site in each destination. No company in the world does that trip. You couldn’t even get a quote.”
Siegel believes that golfers in North American, Australia and Europe are aware that golf course development is booming in Asia, that Y.E. Yang was the first Asian male to win the PGA this summer, one of golf’s major championships. “But they’re only now realizing just how good the resort golf really is here in Asia, and how high the standard of resort accommodation is, and how affordable they both are by Western standards,” he adds.
In its “Best In Travel 2010” guide, published in October, Lonely Planet named Thailand the no. 2 “Best-Value Destination” in the world, calling it a “perennially good value”, along with being “one of the cheapest long-haul holidays for European holidaymakers… visitors are always spoilt for choice regarding accommodation.”
Golfasian has complemented this value proposition by spending significant time and resources on enhancing its web presence. In addition to the Golfasian brand, the company now owns and operates the Phuket golf travel-focused Phuket-golfthailand.com; a Hua Hin-focused site, fairway-golf-tours.com; the Thailand golf instruction leader GolfThink.com; and the Internet’s only two blogs dealing exclusively with golf in Thailand, ThailandGolfZone.com and ThailandGolfBlog.com. Frequent updates cover golf course reviews, destination information, guidance on the best places eat, and holiday-arranging advice. This information helps golfers ensure their various vacation components match strict individual selection criteria.
More and more people are now using the Internet to plan their own vacations, Siegel asserts, and this evidenced by activity on golfasian.com, where traffic is up 192% (as measured in September 2009, compared to September 2008). The company’s online booking and reservation system allows golfers to get immediate pricing and confirmation of custom golf tours and tee times.
“We’re in a unique position on the web,” Siegel says. “We offer the means for experienced travellers to arrange things themselves. For example, online tee times can be booked at any of 65 golf courses throughout Thailand via golfasian.com. But we’ve also positioned the site to inform and educate first-time visitors – and we’re happy to take these customers by the hand and advise them on where to go, where to play, and when.
“Here’s an example: In Thailand there is a dry season – fall, winter and spring – and a rainy season (which I prefer to call the ‘green’ season) in June, July and August. In the green season, it’s windy and it rains like clockwork almost every afternoon. But predictable afternoon rain is easily dealt with by playing in the mornings, which is the preferred tee time for most golfers anyway. Moreover, not only is morning golf a certainty, the best bargains for green fees and accommodations are to be had this same time of year. And the courses are nearly empty.”