Thailand woos foreign golfers with sun, sand traps

Fri Jul 10, 2009 2:38am EDT
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By Chawadee Nualkhair

BANGKOK (Reuters Life!) - Glittering temples, bargain-filled markets, stunning beaches and verdant golf courses: for an increasing number of visitors, Thailand is the ideal recession-friendly holiday destination, down to a tee.

At a time of global economic woes, Thailand is marketing itself as a place for good food, sun and sand traps, in the hope that more golfers will help rescue a floundering tourism industry that still comprises 6 percent of GDP.

"As counterintuitive as it seems, the recession is actually helping Thailand," said Mark Siegel, director of golf tour operator Golfasian, which handles 4,000 overseas golfers a year.

"For example, North Americans normally travel to Scotland and Ireland for their golf holidays. This year however, it has become prohibitively expensive for some. Therefore, rather than cancel their travels, these same golfers are selecting Thailand."

Siegel says Thailand's relative value for money, and 260 golf courses, is one of the reasons why his business has been growing 10 percent a year and is expected to grow 10-20 percent in 2010.

And the estimated $800 million local golf tourism industry appears to be doing better than the overall tourism industry.

A recent study by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce predicted tourist arrivals would drop by as much as 20 percent this year from 2008 levels.

Thailand has struggled to lure tourists back since political demonstrations shut down Bangkok's airports in December. Deadly riots in April that forced the cancellation of an Asian summit also did little to soothe would-be visitors.   Continued...