Thailand aims to attract Muslim, Israeli and gay tourists

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In recent marketing campaigns, Thailand has been aiming to attract diverse categories of tourists including Muslims, Israelis and homosexuals, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

“The land of smiles,” as the country is sometimes known, has stressed its openness and attractiveness to a wide range of tourists who are sometimes rejected by surrounding countries.

Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, is trying to tap into the lucrative market of Muslim travelers. Unlike neighboring Myanmar, where anti-Muslim feelings have recently spilled over into violence, Thailand presents itself as a Muslim-friendly country.

It is already the eighth most popular country with Muslim travelers, particularly Gulf Arabs, according to Crescentrating, an online travel guide for Muslims.

Thailand is aiming to increase these numbers by marketing itself as a place where halal food (complying with Islamic requirements) is readily available and “halal spas” offer separate facilities for women and men.

All the leading shopping malls in the country have Muslim prayer rooms, as well as in the beach resort city of Pattaya.
Meanwhile, Crescentrating’s study ranked Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport as the most Muslim-friendly airport in a non-Muslim country.

Its tourism authority, which has an office in Dubai, organized a month-long festival of Thai cuisine in the UAE earlier this year to encourage visitors from the wealthy Gulf state.

Thailand is also actively seeking other categories of tourists that are shunned by its South East Asia neighbors.

According to travel industry analysts, it is the only Asian country with a government-sponsored campaign – “Go Thai. Be Free” – aimed at gay and lesbian travelers.

In other South East Asian countries — Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore — some or all forms of sexual contact between men are illegal.

But in Thailand it is common to see gay couples, local and foreign, holding hands in shopping malls and other public places.

Thailand also attracts those who are unwelcome in neighboring countries for political reasons. Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim-majority countries, bar Israelis from visiting. Thailand, by contrast, has long been one of the most popular destinations for Israeli travelers, with 120,000 Israelis visiting Thailand in 2012.

“We live in a country that is open and pretty liberal — I can’t think of a market that we wouldn’t welcome,” Wisoot Buachoom, the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s office in the northern city of Chiang Mai, told the New York Times.

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