Research Proposal

Introduction

Travel in Thailand

Thailand, the land of smiles had become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. They welcomed 32 million visitors last year, showing an increase of 9% compared to their previous year. The country is known for their beautiful temples, exotic white sanded beaches and exotic cuisine. With their inexpensive accommodation and living cost, Thailand has attracted a steady stream of Western backpackers. However, as transport and communication infrastructure grows along with increased luxury accommodation offering, business travellers are also coming to Thailand. Other nature attractions such as tropical forests and coral reefs continue to draw in adventure travellers (Thaiwebsites). In this project, we are exploring trends and themes surrounding the country’s tourism through social media.

About Thailand

Thailand is a Southeast Asian country with a population of 65 million people, bordering Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. The capital city, Bangkok, and also its most populous city was founded in the 15th century. The country remained a largely agricultural one until the 1960s when tourism and manufacturing took over (Keyes & Hafner, 2017).

The country’s religion, Buddhism, plays a key role in Thai people’s cultural life. Ancient practices still influence a large part of contemporary Thai national heritage. The monarchy plays a key role in this cultural preservation through their participation in royal functions, state ceremonies and popular festivals, most notably Songkran and Loi Krathong (Keyes & Hafner, 2017).

Brief History

Thailand, until the 1940s, was the only South East Asian country never under Western colonial control and hence maintained its individualism (Berger, 2007). Siam, as it was called then, was ruled under absolute monarchy until a revolution in 1932, transforming the country into the constitutional monarchy it is ‘til this date. They country suffers from political instability however as parliamentary democracy and military struggled to gain control over authority (Keyes & Hafner, 2017).

Tourism in Thailand

The industry plays a crucial role in the country’s economy, accounting for a staggering 10% of total GDP. In 2016, revenue gained from international and domestic tourists was about 63 billion U.S Dollars, up from 34 billion U.S. Dollars in 2012. However, this figure is lower than expected judging by the number of tourists, destinations and hotels in Thailand (Thaiwebsites).

Our research

As one of the most popular destinations in the world, Thailand has a strong social media presence within the travel community. The research aims to explore emerging themes and opinions on Thailand within this community and determine the best approach towards them. The overarching intention is to provide useful conclusions for parties interested in attracting travellers to Thailand. The topic is relevant to the country due to the importance of tourism here.

Research question

  • What are the best ways to engage people that are interested in or already traveling to Thailand?

Sub questions

  • What themes emerge among posts on traveling to Thailand?
  • Who are the influencers within the conversation of traveling to Thailand?
  • What time is the best time to reach people that are interested in or already traveling to Thailand?
  • What devices do people who are related to this topic post from the most?

Research Design and Methodology

We use trend analysis, data visualisation and netnography to research our topic and answer our research questions. We will use these different methods to answer the research question ‘ What is the best way to engage people that are interested in or already are traveling to Thailand?’.

Trend analysis

A trend is something that develops and gains popularity, and continues to develop over a long period of time. People often confuse trends with fads. The difference is that fads often hang around for a shorter period of time, from a few months to a few years. They can fade away as quick as they gained popularity. Trends in contrast, usually take longer to develop, but develop over a much wider scale and continue to exist for a much longer period of time (Haberman, 2014).

Trend analysis is a tool to study trends. It is used to analyse how a trend develops over time, the way it is represented and spoken about and with that gives an idea of what will happen with the trend in the future (Staff, 2015).

The trend analysis tool we have used in order to find a topic for our research is Google Trends.

Data visualisation

Data visualisation is the pictorial of graphic presentation of data. It is used to enable the viewer to grasp complex or a big amount of data quick- and easily (SAS, n.d.). During our research process we will use the program Gephi and create charts and graphs in excel to visualise the data we collect.

Charts and graphs can be used to visualise answers for the sub-questions about the themes that emerge among posts, the devices people post from and the locations posts come from. Gephi will be used to visualise the answer to the sub-question ‘Who are the influencers within the conversation of traveling to Thailand?’ and will show the network these influencers have and how big these are.

Netlytic

Netlytic is an example of quantitative research. ‘It is a social networks analyser that can automatically summarize and discover social networks from online conversations on social media sites’ (Netlytic, n.d.). We will use this tool for every sub-question, because it is a fast and easy tool to gather a lot of different information that we can use.

It however also has its limitations. Because Netlytic is an automatic analyser, we deal with tool limitations. When it automatically groups comments in ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ for example, sarcastic comments are not filtered out. Besides, it is only focused on the people that are active on certain platforms, not taking other demographics into consideration.

Netnography

Netnography is a new media research method. “It derives its name from ethnography and net – as in ‘the Internet’” (DeVault, 2017). It is a method in which online communities like Facebook, blogs, forums etc. are used to analyse the social interactions and opinions of users on a defined area (Karr, 2015).

These interactions and opinions are found manually by reading what people are writing. The researcher can also engage in a conversation, if the answer he/she can not find the answers he/she is looking for. Thereafter, we will use the program ATLAS.ti to code the comments and reflect on these codes. 

We will use this tool to answer the sub-questions about what themes emerge among posts on traveling to Thailand and who the influencers are within the conversation of traveling to Thailand.

Netnography is a type of qualitative research. The information gathered with nethnography is very in depth, and therefor valuable information. However, it does take a lot of time and because of that it is not possible to collect a lot of information. This is the opposite of quantitative research, where a large number of information can be gathered at once, but that information is very superficial.

Reflection research process and strategy

When starting the research processes, we thoughtfully planned our strategy. With our research questions in our minds, we looked at the data and, for example with netnography, only chose a community when we knew the data was of good quality. A description of how we exactly gathered the data for netnography can be found on the netnography page.

Online search

Justification of the research design

We chose our research design due to a variety of reasons. We decided to use the program Netlytic, as we think it is important to include quantitative as well as qualitative tools for our research. Netlytic being one of our quantitative research tools, is suitable for large online communities such as social network platforms, where we want to concentrate our research on (socialmedialab, 2015). Netlytic is able to discover who is talking to who, how often, what they are talking about, how they feel and what the nature of the relationship of the people interacting is.

The qualitative research tool Netnography is an important part of our research design, since it is the only tool where we, the researchers can engage in a discussion online and ask questions, whenever we are not completely satisfied with a research result.

We will also use data visualization, as this is an appropriate tool to graphically visualize research results and findings (SAS, n.d.). Outlining our findings in graphs will help us to get a better and clearer understanding of the results and will give us a view on the bigger picture on our research.

A trend analysis tool we have used in order to find a topic for our research is Google Trends. This tool gives a clear overview of relevant information concerning trends and the level of interest in a trend in the course of time. It is important for our research to see how a trend develops. A limitation to this trend is that the information is gathered from Google’s own search engine, and does not take other search engines into consideration. However, since Google is one of the most common search engines (Chris A., 2017)we consider this tool as important.

Trend analysis

As mentioned above, the tool we used for our trend analysis is Google Trends. Through Google Trends we found out that the interest in articles related to travelling in Thailand were the highest in January 2017 considering that the period of time that has been analyzed reaches from 2012 to 2017. The graph shows that there is slightly more interest in travel articles about Thailand than in travel articles about other south east Asian countries like for instance Vietnam, Indonesia or Myanmar. This led us to the conclusion that there might be a trend for travelling in Thailand. Throughout the years the graph shows that the month with the highest interest in Thailand travel related articles is always in January, which could be due to weather reasons. The country with the highest interest in those articles is the UK.

When searching to articles related to specific holiday destinations within the country we found out that there might be a trend for the island Koh Samui as the interest in Koh Samui related articles has been increasing, with the highest interest from the years 2012 to 2017, being January 2017. The city Krabi has had an increase in interest within the analyzed period of time. The highest point was in January 2017. Also we can see a trend for travelling to Chiang Mai, the second biggest city in Thailand after Bangkok, as the interest in articles has been increasing since 2012. However, the island Koh Phi Phi has had a decrease in interest. The lowest point was in February 2016.

Searching the term “hostels in Thailand” we could see that the graph showed an increase in the last years. The month with the highest interest in articles related to hostels in Thailand however was in march 2016. This the increase in interest in hostels in Thailand lets us conclude that bagpacking in Thailand has been increasing.

Other online examples

Researching other online sources, blogs in particular, we noticed that there was a higher amount of  articles published, about travelling to Thailand than about other south east Asian countries (nomadicmatt, n.d.). We also found that articles about Chiang Mai were especially popular, since many blogs we went through gave more information on Chiang Mai than for instance on islands or other holiday destinations within the country (twowanderingsoles, n.d.), (Cavanagh R., 2017). These articles are giving tips on activities, sights and food. This is could be an indication that there is currently a trend for travels to Chiang Mai, which is what Google Trend’s graph indicated as well.

Literature Review

Travelling in Thailand is seen as the ideal spot for backpackers as the country offers breathtaking views, affordable accommodation and a flavourful cuisine (Berger, 2007). With Thailand being the hotspot destination in Southeast Asia and having some of the most well developed infrastructure in the region, it is the ideal holiday spot.

Trends in the Thai Tourism Industry

With Thailand being known as the “Land of Smiles”, it is clear as to why the country appeals to so many tourists. Thailand is now “one of the touristically most developed countries in the Third World” and follows global trends in their touristic sector (Cohen, 1996). With global touristic trends demanding a variety of diverse attractions, tours, and activities for tourists to partake in, Thailand offers a wide array of these for tourists.

Although Thailand is world renown for its pristine beaches, warm weather, and beautiful geography, it also offers a variety of more ‘urban activities’ such as shopping and world class entertainment in its cities (Berger, 2007). Furthermore, Thailand covers the “Four S’s of Tourism”, sun, sea, sand, and sex. As Thailand’s tourism industry grew and continues to grows, these four aspects are covered. With Thailands year round warm weather, pristine beaches, white sand, and regulated prostitution it brings in a wide array of tourists looking for all types of ‘activities’.

Thailands diversity attracts more than just jet setting backpackers, it brings in couples and families on holiday for leisure, people seeking adventure. The backpacker is sometimes seen as the average traveler to in Thailand but as mentioned, couples and families also seek escape to the “Lane of Smiles”. Thailand offers bountiful beaches that host world class resorts which offer everything from accommodation, entertainment/activities, and cuisine that satisfies every aspect a couple or family seek when on holiday (Berger, 2007).

With Thailand having such a varied ecosystem, there is plenty of adventure to fulfil the thrill seekers wishes. With scuba diving in the ocean life rich coral reefs off the coasts, to rock climbing off of limestone cliffs in Railay, to even jungle trekking in Pai; Thailand has everything for the adventurer (Berger, 2007).

Safety in Thailand for Tourists

Overall, millions of people visit Thailand every year without incident. With over 30 million tourists visiting the country in 2016, danger is not a widespread issue (O’Neill, 2017).

While the risk of facing a terrorist attack in Thailand are slim, tourists should be aware that terrorism is an issue that burdens the country every so often. There have been attacks in the nations capital of Bangkok and in other touristic hotspots in recent years (Ghimire, 2001). Thai authorities have increased security in high risk locations but tourists should remain vigilant and aware (Sachdev, 2015).

Although Thailand is a relatively safe country for tourists to visit, people should be aware that there are dangers/risks that may not be present in their countries. Pickpocketing seems to be a widespread issue and it is rather commonplace especially in the popular cities such as Bangkok and Phuket (Sachdev, 2015).

Furthermore, Thailands tourism offers a lot of adventurous activities such as paragliding, zip lining and so on. Rules and regulations in this department are more lax than they would be in more developed countries and poor maintenance is widespread;  tourists should be sure to go to reputable companies to prevent any avoidable mishaps (Simpson, 2014).

Overall, Thailand remains a safe country to visit and tourists should not feel threatened when visiting the “Land of Smiles” but it is best to remain alert and vigilant whilst spending your time in this Southeast Asian country.

Thai Political Instability  

Throughout the years, Thailand has faced some difficult situations in which have results in political instability. In the years 2013 and 2014 there were widespread protests throughout the country against the governments prime minister (Simpson, 2014). This resulted in a drastic decrease in tourism in the country. This moment of political instability was not a drastically dangerous situation but did result in the military declaring marital law throughout the Kingdom of Thailand which is still in effect today.

Furthermore, after the passing of Thailands king Bhumibol Adulyadej on the 13th of October 2016, the risk of insurgency and political instability drastically increased once again because of the stress the nation faced with the loss of their longest reigning monarch. The country established a mourning period of one year which resulted in the closure of most bars, nightclubs, and high profile venues in the country a month after the kings death (O’Neill, 2017). Tourists are asked to dress more modestly during this period of mourning and are welcomed to show their respects to the king in Thailands Grand Palace.

While Thailand seems to experience occasional surges of political instability, tourists should not be overly concerned over this but should be aware that these moments have an effect on the countries tourism sector.

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