Asia is an ideal region for vegan tourists because of its feature of religion. Thailand is a typical example of a destination that develops a vegan tourism experience for visitors based on its religion.
The Thailand Vegetarian Festival is a typical example of a vegan tourism experience in Asia. This is a long-standing festival and is held annually on the eve of September (lunar calendar) and lasts 9 days. The Thailand Vegetarian Festival originates from the ancient Chinese community in this country and is a cultural interference between the two countries Thailand – China. However, in addition to transmitting traditional culture and religious beliefs (Taoism), the development and promotion of this Thai festival also offer a special vegan tourism experience for visitors.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand began promoting the Vegetarian Festival as a tourism event in the 1990s when tourism started to thrive in Phuket. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has partnered with Phuket’s oldest shrine to learn its historical origins and the stories surrounding this festival. They promoted the festival by conveying interesting historical stories through publications and media.
Vegetarian Festivals are held throughout Thailand, but the most vibrant is in areas with many Chinese immigrants such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok, of which Phuket is the locality that holds the largest festival each year. Although it is called the Vegetarian Festival, this festival is really vegan because, in addition to the elimination of meat, dishes in the festival do not use animal products such as eggs, milk, honey, etc. Visitors must also comply with many other principles to participate in the festival. Every year, the Thailand Vegetarian Festival attracts thousands of visitors to attend and is a major festival making an important contribution to Thai tourism.
The Thailand Vegetarian Festival not only offers a culinary experience for vegans, but it is also a vibrant, colorful festival with street parades and Buddhist and Taoist shrines hosting religious rituals for visitors. The strong growth of the festival is reflected in the number of participating processions and shrines, and the scale of the festival also expands each year. From just a few processions and a few shrines that organized themselves individually as a religious culture, the festival quickly expanded with dozens of processions and hundreds of temples participating.
The Thailand Vegetarian Festival makes a definite contribution to the tourism industry as well as to the Thailand economy. A survey in 2019 is expected that the festival of the year will stimulate people in Bangkok to spend about 4.76 billion baht over the nine days of the festival, an increase of 2.4% compared to 2018. In Phuket, the island’s governor predicted the festival to generate around 2 billion baht in tourism revenue in 2019.
Because it originated from the ancient Chinese community, the Vegetarian Festival is one of the events that attract many Chinese visitors to Thailand. China is the major tourist market in the country, accounting for 27.6% of the country’s total tourist arrivals and accounting for 28.1% of Thailand’s total tourist revenue in 2018. Thanks to strong growth over the years, the Vegetarian Festival has become famous and attracts a wider variety of visitors to the festival, with many visitors from Malaysia, Singapore, and Western countries.
At the end of 2020, after nearly a year of facing Covid-19 and the tourism industry stagnant, the Phuket government had to change its strategy of organizing the Vegetarian Festival. If in the past, foreign tourists were the main visitors, accounting for 70% of the total visitors to the festival, now, the Phuket government was forced to focus on domestic tourists, aiming to attract about 60,000 visitors and locals to the festival and earn 350 million baht of revenue. The quick transformation from the Phuket government helped tourism businesses to see positive signs of recovery. Especially, after gloomy months, many hotels in Phuket saw about 20% of rooms have been booked for weekdays and more rate for weekends during the festival.
The Thailand Vegetarian Festival is an example of leveraging and developing a long-standing religious culture and providing unique vegan travel experiences for visitors. Vegan tourism is an emerging trend in recent years, current vegan travel experiences are still quite limited, mostly focusing on the culinary aspect and tourists usually experience at vegan restaurants. However, if destinations can capture the emergence of this trend, combining with the religious and cultural backgrounds of the country, it can become an attractive destination for vegan tourists.