This article aims to examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for tourism in the Roi Kaen Sarn Sin (RKSS) cluster, using a qualitative approach to consider religious tourism in northeastern Thailand. Semi-structured interviews were the main data collection tools, and key informants of this study included officers from both government and private sectors related to tourism in northeastern Thailand. The results found that religious tourism took place within this area a long time ago. Elements of religious tourism in the RKSS cluster include 1) attractions, 2) accessibility, 3) accommodations, 4) safety, 5) activities supporting tourism, and 6) social issues. Opportunities and weaknesses of the provincial clusters, from the point of view of religious tourism, can be classified into several issues, including infrastructure and transportation, tourism attractions, religious activities, networks, and local beliefs; the development strategies for increasing potential for religious tourism are 1) transportation coverage through public transport and 2) local sectors that keep area monastery histories.
Keywords: Roi Kean Sarn Sin cluster, religious tourism, SWOT
The northeastern region of Thailand was formerly declared a land of poverty. The region's geographical landscape is a plateau; the soil is mostly clay silt with good drainage that makes it hard to catch the water. Due to these conditions, the northeastern region is called "the most drought land of Thailand" (Buapan, 2002). In terms of culture and archaeology, the northeastern region is full of cultural aspects, and archaeological evidence has found a lot more in the areas nearby. Such evidence reflects the religious changes of people in years past (Suwit & Dararat, 1998; Thawat, 1989), for instance, the Phimai sanctuary, which is full of etched patterns, reflects beliefs in Buddhism and Brahmanism. In addition, these signs also reflected the faith and beliefs of people at that time, and these were transferred to people of the next generation as tangible religious objects. For example, every village in the northeastern region has a temple that acts as the center of the village or community. These temples also have a history which describes well-known masters who performed and practiced many good things very well. Besides the faith aspect religion has been combined with tourism aspects, and this is called religious tourism and viewed as a sub-type of cultural tourism. This kind of tourism has been recognized as an alternative for some who are interested in the history of religious objects. Nowadays, this tourism alternative has spread. According to Sudatip's (2012) study, religious tourism currently is another form of tourism for people who are specifically interested in religion and archaeology, and it has been very popular in Thailand due to the Thai belief that worshipping sacred places or objects would bring prosperity to people's lives. The study found that temples counted as resources for religious tourism that reflect the civilization and local livelihoods. They are full of knowledge on history, architecture, fine arts, education, and the cultural links between community culture and the history of the local settlement as well (Manu, 1977; Wirot, 1995).
The Roi Kaen Sarn Sin (RKSS) cluster was set up through the Thai government's strategies in 2003 for four provinces: Roi Et, Khon Kaen, Mahasarakham, and Kalasin. It aimed to develop a network for increasing the economic potential in this provinces group. However, this study of the clusters was conducted based on the following question: What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for tourism in the Roi Kaen Sarn Sin (RKSS) cluster area? This question will prove the presence of tourism elements and potential for tourism resources. Nevertheless, this result can be further developed to improve and enhance religious tourism in the future. …