Chiang Mai is new 'culture club' hotspot for travellers
Thailand's Chiang Mai tourism market has undergone a millennial transformation that is now tapping into a new base of travellers seeking authentic Thai experiences.
Last year, more than 4.6 million people arrived at the city's international gateway, thrusting the destination into a new light, as passenger volume only trailed Phuket in terms of provincial airports in the country.
According to C9 Hotelworks' latest market research Chiang Mai Hotel Market Overview, much of the growth has been fueled by rising low-cost carriers, with 5,346 flights from Greater China last year.
Over the past 10 years, passenger arrivals have shot up three-fold with 2013 being the turning point fueled by the epic success of the Chinese film "Lost in Thailand".
Noting the explosive impact of cinematic wanderlust on tourism, C9's managing director Bill Barnett said: "Be it 'Eat Pray Love' or 'Notting Hill', the impact of film in destination marketing is remarkable.
While Thailand's travel market outside of Bangkok shifted to the beach in the early millennium, a rising tide of Asian travellers and westerners increasingly want into the culture club instead of the atypical surf and turf."
As Thailand's government has pivoted its tourism ambition from quantity to quality, Chiang Mai has fit nicely into the equation with a range of impressive new boutique hotels, a rampant art scene and budding culinary offerings, the shift is resonating with Thai and foreign travellers alike.
One of the most eagerly awaited entries to the creative scene was the debut of the MAIIAM Museum of Creative Art in mid-2016. This 3,000 square metre facility has attracted global attention.
"We are certainly seeing increasing demand for personalized itineraries for Chiang Mai - for both the city itself and also connecting cities to explore the far north of Thailand," said ASIA DMC Thailand managing director Andre van der Marck.
"Strong domestic airlift is helping access while the increase of creative, boutique accommodation is an ideal match with the experiential millennial travellers we see more and more."
Looking into the prospects for 2017, while the government instituted a crackdown in zero-baht tours from Mainland China in the mid part of last year, the impact is normalizing, given strong demand from Thai domestic travellers who are being drawn to a different Chiang Mai experience.
Digital media is super charging the pace of change as millennials abandon guidebooks and replace them with smartphones and a new mode of travel driven by authentic local experiences and a lifestyle of sharing, thanks to Facebook and Instagram.