National and Regional Tourism Boards know nothing better than popular media featuring their destination.
In his book “Film-induced Tourism“, Erik Sellgren aptly describes how movies and TV-series inspire us to visit the locations we see on our screens. Sometimes it is the sheer beauty of the movie setting, sometimes it’s the atmosphere, the people, the history, the events or the emotional involvement with a location that spark our imagination and make us yearn to visit these places and re-live scenes from the movie. This film-induced longing to visit a certain location is one of the most effective destination advertisements, exactly because it is not an advertisement. It should be no surprise if the national tourism boards of New Zealand and Iceland, respectively, were high-fiving when they learned that The Lord of The Rings and Game of Thrones would be filmed in their countries.
If you haven’t heard about Koh Phayam, perhaps it’s because you are not German.
Similarly, wildlife documentaries and travel media inspire us to go places. Who doesn’t want to go to Galapagos after seeing Sir David Attenborough sitting among iguanas and giant tortoises? In Germany an in-flight travel magazine, I was told by one of the island’s bungalow owners, did a feature of Koh Phayam some 5 years ago, highly praising it as one of the few remaining undiscovered island paradises in Thailand. Just like Phuket and Koh Samui back in the 70’s, when everything was authentic and pure, where smiles were real, and money a distant second to heart-warming hospitality. Okay, so I haven’t seen the German feature, but I can vividly imagine. As a result, ever since the publication Koh Phayam has been visited by an increasing amount of Germans. Now travelers and agencies from other countries are starting to put Koh Phayam on the map – which would eventually happen. But it’s fascinating and perhaps a little scary how one magazine feature can influence the history of an island.
So what is Koh Phayam?
It is a small kangaroo-shaped island off the coast of Ranong, Thailand. It has beautiful white sand beaches whose width vary according to the tide. There are relatively few people on the island and it is perfect for those who want simple beaching. Most of the accommodation on the island is still amazingly cheap offering simple bungalows with no hot water and only low volume electricity from 6-12 hours a day, depending on the resort. The reason why it hasn’t yet become a major destination yet? – getting there is slightly more complicated (only slightly) than other islands, and if you want 3-4 star conveniences, this is not it. Additionally, cell-phone signals and internet is not reliable (yet). Perhaps the biggest reason is the fact that the small family-owned resorts are simply not geared to be sold by big online hotel suppliers or international travel agencies, and most of them don’t even have a website. This means that you actually have to go to the island first to select your accommodation – a risk not so many travelers are willing to take, unless of course they have read a certain in-flight magazine.
As I write this, hotel investors and entrepreneurs are planning to enter Koh Phayam. There are already a few higher standard accommodation options with air-condition, pool, and 24/7 electricity, conveniences that were hard to find just a few years ago. This will no doubt influence the visitor profiles enjoying the island, and if you browse the internet, there are already voices saying “Koh Phayam is not what it used to be”.
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