BANGKOK, Thailand – Golf and travel industry experts from Hong Kong to Malaga to London to Kuala Lumpur have singled out Thailand as Asia’s premier golf and holiday destination, several of them citing “Golf in a Kingdom: The Thai Travel Experience,” as a promotional driver behind the country’s continued primacy for golf holiday-makers originating from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Thailand was named “Golf Destination of the Year” for Asia & Australasia by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), at November’s International Golf Travel Market conference and trade show in Malaga, Spain. The IAGTO Awards, sponsored in association with Virgin Atlantic, are the official awards for the golf tourism industry. IAGTO is the global trade organization for the golf tourism industry, comprising more than 1,300 companies in 77 countries, including more than 330 specialist golf tour operators in 50 countries.

Meanwhile, Thailand and its 260 courses earned the coveted Golfer Choice Award as the ‘Choice Vacation Destination’ for 2009, repeating the honor it earned in 2008. The Golfer Choice Awards are jointly organized by the Hong Kong Golf Association, the Europe-Asia PGA, and Golf Vacations, the Hong Kong-based golf publication.

Not all the plaudits have come from the golf niche. In its “Best In Travel 2010″ guide, published in October, London-based Lonely Planet named Thailand the no. 2 “Best-Value Destination” in the world, calling it a “perennially good value”, along with being “one of the cheapest long-haul holidays for European holidaymakers… visitors are always spoilt for choice regarding accommodation.” The poll’s no. 1 “Best-Value Destination” was Iceland, while London finished at no. 3.

“These awards are welcome, of course, but they aren’t news to anyone who works in the golf travel industry, or for that matter anyone who has experienced a golf holiday in Thailand,” said Santi Chudintra, director of the Americas Market Division at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). “What’s clear to us is the effect of a superior product combined with affordability, important strategic partnerships and powerful marketing initiatives like ‘Golf in a Kingdom’. This award is not only for the country but also for the golf companies and individuals who have helped make this happen.”

Further to Chudintra’s point: The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Hong Kong office – TAT Hong Kong – has, over the course of 10 years, worked in close cooperation with strategic tourism partners in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong to form and administer the ‘Thailand Golf Escape’ programme. “Golf in a Kingdom”, a consortium of Thailand’s top courses and hotels (www.golfinakingdom.com) launched in July 2009, has since generated hundreds of international media placements in European and North American golf and travel publications/websites. It also organized and executed an ambitious North American media FAM in November 2009, with assistance from TAT.

Several Thai golf clubs, all of them “Golf in a Kingdom” member courses, also secured top honors in three major categories when the worldwide golf industry gathered the week of Oct. 26 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the Asia-Pacific Golf Summit – a week-long education and strategy conference hosted by Asian Golf Monthly, the region’s top golf publication. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player headlined the conference and awards banquet, where Thai courses were thrice honored:

“We think it’s instructive to look at the totality of what’s happening re. Thailand, its golf product, and how they’re both perceived and promoted,” said Mark Siegel, managing director of Bangkok-based Golf Asian Co. Ltd., Indochina’s top golf tour operator and a “Golf in Kingdom” member. “Thailand has always delivered value for money, but this message is clearly reaching a larger, broader audience.”

Distance has long been the issue for would-be Thai holiday-makers from North America and, to a lesser degree, Europe. However, in this economy, Siegel says, value has clearly outweighed distance and convenience. He points to Golfasian’s 23% increase in turnover for the 12-month period ending November 2009, compared to the previous 12-month period. Siegel cited further evidence of this shift: “Golf in a Kingdom” member Siam Country Club, in coastal Pattaya, reported a record 44,000 rounds on its Plantation course for the 12-month period ending Nov. 1, 2009. The difference has been the increased long-haul business, he says.

“I don’t think it’s possible to win that business without positive exposure in those markets,” Siegel says. “These awards effectively complement that media exposure because it’s not TAT or ‘Golf in a Kingdom’ or Golfasian saying how wonderful the destination is, how great these courses are. It’s the judgment of respected third-parties.”

Added TAT’s Chudintra: “This will definitely help us to promote Thailand for golf and encourage golfers to come and play there. We believe it will help to bring more golfers.”