Russia and Thailand: towards greater people-to-people connectivity through tourism cooperation

Senior Expert of ASEAN Centre Dr.Ekaterina Koldunova talks to Dr. Anada Pruettiangkura (Shall Travel) about how the innovative tourism services can bring Thailand and Russia closer together.

Dr. Pruettiangkura, could you, please, tell us a couple of words about your concept of tourism service?

We’re developing 2 solutions for individual travelers and locals. The first one is ShallTravel.com, an Online Booking Platform for Activities & Lifestyle Experience, and Kollot.com, a smart trip planner tool covering all services from accommodation, transportation, sightseeing, lifestyle. Both solutions are mobile and PC-friendly.

We realized the drawbacks of inflexible group travel, which hampers travellers from seeing what they’re truly interested in, or having their own schedule. We also saw the disadvantages of a pricey private tour. Based on these ideas, we would like to create a tourism service that caters for all travelling styles. A family can travel in family style visiting kid-friendly places like zoo or museums; a group of friends can go for activities like laser tag or paintball, lovers can enjoy a romantic dinner cruise or private movies screening room. Especially, they can all travel at their own pace and budget.

Besides, our tourism service makes traveling easy. Our platform is a link between the destination and the traveler. Joining group tour might be the easiest way to travel, yet it poses inconvenience. Otherwise, to travel by yourself, it takes lots of time and energy to do research. With us, everybody can enjoy travelling as it’s so much easier, and reachable. We curate the good quality activities suitable for all interests and timeline, and provide all related information. All you need to do is search, select, book, and you’re on board.

We also want to inspire people to travel. I believe not only going abroad is travelling. Going to a neighbouring city when you can change the environment, and have a break from your daily routine is already beneficial for your heart and soul. Traveling can be far, can be near, and can be for everybody.

What distinguishes your travel agency from other agents in the sphere?

Our first strength is Product Quality, including a variety of curated activities and detailed content. We go beyond the regular landmarks and attractions to unravel a variety of activities that are even unexplored by the locals. Our detailed content equips travelers with all useful information needed before their journey starts. City guide, Attractions, Weather, Cost, Getting Around, What to expect, Local tips… are all covered for your ultimate experience.

Besides, we help travellers to efficiently manage their trips. There’re many online booking platforms for hotels or flights, but not so many for activities. The fact is that activities should be planned ahead just like hotels or flights. Normally, people go the hotel concierge and pick the tours from there, which they might not get the best of their money and time. With us, you can control your own schedule and do what you truly enjoy.

Another value that we offer is 24/7 customer support: Our customer service staff is a destination consultant. When you have a question or request, instead of contacting each service operator by yourself, just talk to us simply by live chat support and get the help you need.

Last but not least, we support small business. There’s a growing number of niche businesses offering such interesting cultural experience, such as Lacquer painting workshop taught by a retired passionate artist in Hanoi, Vietnam; or a cozy cooking class run by a couple at their own home in the countryside of Siem Reap, Cambodia. What they are lack of is marketing resources, and we help them grow from gaining exposure to global customers.

You know that Russian tourists are not new in Bangkok and Thailand.  What could you recommend to those who already have first impressions of your country?

First-timer travellers normally go to the popular landmark in Thailand such as Grand Palace, Wat Arun, floating market, Pattaya. Not many travellers would want to go to the same attractions for the second time, which is not a challenge as Bangkok or Thailand has so much more to offer.

I’d like to recommend repeat travelers to scope your interest, and go deeper. Some travelers like ecotourism, some are into art and culture, some like challenging themselves with adventurous activities, some enjoy beauty and medical services. Thailand is a fast-growing country that changes over time. It has a variety of things to do that you can go deeper with your field of interest, instead of going for the mass activities.

The question is, how does a tourist know what else is offered besides those common activities?  This goes back to our platform’s mission. We discover new things to do for you, things you actually don’t know they’re there, so that you can choose based on your interest. Our platform is also a local favourite because our products are diverse and always updated whether it's sightseeing, pottery workshop, wine tasting, massages, medical check-up, or car rental…  A tourist can stay much longer, or come back as many times, because, the same destination can still bring out different thrilling experience.  

Would you recommend to those in Russia who are only thinking about going to your part of the world to plan a trip to several ASEAN countries at once?

This depends on many factors. There’s now a trend of multi-destination travelling, which works well in travelling to ASEAN due to low cost of travel. Regardless of close proximity, all ASEAN countries have different cultural sphere, and are worth exploring. If you have time, it’d be ideal as you can maximize the travel experience, time, and other resources.

It also depends on whether you’re a first-timer traveler or a repeat one. If you are a first-time traveler and you have a long vacation period, you may want to see the big picture of many countries. This will help you see what ASEAN countries have in common and what distinguishes each country from the other. Visiting highlight attractions is a great introduction to the country. On the other hand, if you are a frequent traveller to the area, it would be a good idea to allocate your time on leisure more than sightseeing, to explore deeper into the culture, people and lifestyle. Since you have already ticked the essentials off of your list, you're free to open up to other amazing things in each country. Your style also matters if you strive for immersive experiences, or you’re looking for no-hassle time.

Overall, it’s recommended to look into what you want to decide on your best-fit itinerary.

In 2015, ASEAN Economic Community started to operate. Do you feel any positive impact of it on your business?

Established in 2015, AEC aims towards a regional cohesive integration in 2025. In term of tourism, the goal is to create ASEAN as a single tourism destination. Although we’re currently at the very beginning of the agenda, we’ve seen positive impact.

The first advantage is the positive collaboration mindset and openness of our prospective partners in the region. This progressive mindset has created significant progress in partnership and geographic expansion. In our case, in just 4 months, we’ve successfully expanded our reach to Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Singapore.

Moreover, policy changes in the neighbouring countries make long-haul multi-country vacation in ASEAN more attractive to travelers. Take example of Vietnam’s new visa waiver policy, for a multi-destinations booking platform like ours, this helps increase sales of our Vietnam’s products, as well as multi-day SEA tour packages.

As mentioned previously, our service’s differentiation is curated products, which is achieved by having our international staffs as the local experts to handle their own market. With the onset of AEC, more and more candidates are interested in working in other countries in the region. Also, the policy is changing toward improving labour mobility. This helps us a lot in getting more capable workforce.

We’re excited to see the outcome of ASEAN’s Tourism Strategic Plan 2016 – 2025 to develop tourism in the region. Infrastructure development including the railways projects, and incentives for investment in tourism sector will bring out much more opportunities.

Throughout past two decades tourism made Russia-ASEAN and Russia-Thailand relations in particular more vibrant. How could Russia and ASEAN expand their cooperation in the tourism further?

Russia and ASEAN, both are so different in many ways such as geography, nature, history and culture. In term of weather, traveller love to experience different weather. Traveller who have never seen snow want to experience how it is like while traveller who have their long winter want to be under the sun in the tropical weather. Together with different history and culture, there are more to explore for the two groups of travelers.

Mutual collaboration between the two are important. This can help to deepen knowledge of each other’s heritage, and for the advancement and promotion of tourism. with support from one another, we can both grow our travel industry stronger and healthier. We can plan for our long term success.

  • Promote Traveling in ASEAN to Russian

Understand demand and style of Russian traveler is important to expand our collaboration. The global trend is also a factor that one has to take into consideration like growing of online booking trend. Although 80% of bookings are in traditional way through offline travel agents, there’s a fast growing trend towards online search and booking for travel services. Understanding the digital trends of Russian travellers is a key competitive advantage to understand and service this market best. This can not be done without support and collaboration between the two regions. There are many things that can be done to help promote this industry some is implemented and some is on its way. For instance, the recent ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit implemented Language Course for ASEAN Tour Operators to enrich the cooperation between ASEAN and Russia and to lower the language barrier, which I found it is a great move.

  • Promote Traveling in Russia to Thai/ ASEAN people

There is an increasing number of thai/Asian travelers going to Russia. The country become more and more attractive to the eyes of Asian. They started from the famous attractions and later on move to more specific interest attractions, getting deeper into Russia themselves. Content and value information inline help travelers get their easier and with confidence. They know what to expect and prepare themselves well before getting there. When there are enough demand, logistic is getting better. There are many flights between the two regions. Together with our deep relationship in our history, our travel industry is supported like our visa free policy. During our long term partnership, there might be some up and down situation from external factor but I am very confident that after the impact we will find the way to find our way back to be on our expansion track. And it is started to show this picture day after day.

Thank you very much for your answers, Dr. Anada.



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