Thailand’s Innovative Country-Branding Initiatives

Now this is TRUE country-branding:

Thailand’s government opened hundreds of Thai Restaurants around the world, in an elaborate franchise scheme set up by the Thai Department of Export both to promote Thai food and act as physical tourist brochures around the world. The highly branded outlets will be known as Golden Leaf, Cool Basil and Elephant Jump. The goal is to open 3,000 restaurants worldwide, in cooperation with joint-venture partners. Kicking off this remarkable initiative, two ‘Elephant Jump’ outlets recently opened in London. In the US, franchise fees would be US$30,000 for Golden Leaf, $20,000 for Cool Basil and $10,000 for Elephant Jump. Franchisees would pay 3% of their annual revenue to the holding company, which would see a 30% Thai government ownership. With tourism now the world’s largest industry, and smaller countries scrambling to be heard and seen amidst the explosion of travel destinations, Thailand shows that it understands the future of ‘popular embassies’. Opening up entertaining (not to mention appetizing) global outposts that generate both instant cash and future income from increased tourism/trade is far more profitable than boring brochures and travel trade shows.

Now, targeting high net-worth individuals around the world, the country’s Tourism Authority has introduced a loyalty scheme, called the Thailand Elite

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Privilege Club

. A world’s first, membership (which comes with the Thailand Elite Card) earns card holders benefits

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and discounts all over the kingdom, ranging from fast-track immigration at Don Muang Airport, heavy discounts on Thai Airways (buy one, get one free), special rates at five-star hotels, free golf at several courses, free limousine transfers, 24-hour concierge service, free spa treatments and medical check-ups, and five-year multiple entry visas allowing the cardholder to stay continuously in Thailand for 90 days. And it gets even better: next year (2005) will see hotels like the Thailand

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Elite Boutique Hotel, golf clubs, and entertainment centers that would be exclusive only to card holders.

Perhaps most intriguingly, members can also ‘purchase’ second homes in Thailand. As foreigners aren’t allowed to own land in Thailand, purchases would be in the name of Thailand Privilege Co., the entity that runs the Thailand Elite program on behalf of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). The state tourist body, which is overseeing the promotion, is hoping to sign up at least 10,000 wealthy visitors to the program by the end of next year. Thailand’s president, Thaksin Shinawatra, has predicted that 200,000 members could eventually join. That’s a lot of newly minted Thai ambassadors!

If for government. Or tourism. Or loyalty management. Or anything that could do with a healthy dose of privilege for customers floating in the ever expanding ‘sea of sameness’. This Thai initiative may inspire to

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re-assess the assets and determine which could carry a premium by making them available to members-only. From a country’s point of view, there are a lot of potential candidates who could do with either an inflow of prosperous visitors, or more goodwill.



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