THAILAND DRIVE FOR QUALITY TOURISTS – Business, as any business person will tell you, is all about taking a risk.
That doesn’t mean simply throwing money at an idea in order to get it to work. For any business to flourish, or indeed survive, takes careful due diligence, a plan and above all careful consideration of market conditions.
When it comes to Thailand’s tourist industry it appears that the Thais really don’t know what they want or how to achieve it.
Let me recant that statement – they actually do know what they want (or at least they think they do) but they don’t know how to achieve it and certainly appear unable to take a ‘calculated’ risk.
So what do the Thais want? The answer to that is plainly obvious… money – it’s the goal of any business or indeed tourism industry. We’re not talking about just a few bucks here, we are talking hundreds of millions of dollar annually – in fact a fair bit more if you are able to clearly define your market and work towards what that market expects.
For at least the last 10 years that I can recall the Thai authorities have been banging the ‘quality tourist’ drum but I’m not convinced the authorities actually know what ‘quality tourism’ is or could even define such a market segment.
Where does Thailand currently stand on the world tourism stage? The market would appear two fold; that being the student backpackers and those seeking sun, sea and sex.
Unfortunately Thailand has developed a rather unpalatable reputation as being the Whore House of South East Asia; which is surprising considering Thailand has a number of strict morality laws.
The issue here is that the morality laws, along with most other laws, are simply flouted whenever money is brought into the equation.
Such a trait has led to a sharp rise in corruption and where police officers will happily turn up at bars for their monthly under-the-table payment in order to look the other way – even if it does mean that the proprietor is engaging in peddling underage girls into prostitution.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has become a constant source of amusement for the growing foreign expat community for no matter what the international media reports TAT will quickly issue a press release announcing that tourism is burgeoning and in fact hotels are struggling to accommodate the hordes of new and returning visitors.
Once again, for the countless time this year alone, TAT have announced that it is going to forge ahead with plans on ridding the country of backpackers and sex tourism by targeting well-heal, wealthy and respectable tourists.
How? That’s an interesting question and the first part includes charging a levy of 500 baht (approx US$16) for foreigners wishing to enter the country.
This sum is expected to deter those ‘low quality’ sex tourists from further degrading Thailand tourist industry image – if such a thing is possible.
The consensus is that Thailand blames the foreigners for its ever degrading image but has clearly failed to acknowledge or better still tackle the current issues of scams, rip-offs, violence and even the murder of foreign tourists; issues that despite TATs assertions are clearly having an impact on tourist numbers.
It appears commonplace for Thai officials to point the finger at the foreign tourist but again their own level of greed and corruption is the main contributor to the county’s issue and yet so vast are the sums involved that any movement to adjust the balance is clearly blocked by those in power.
The 500 baht levy could be seen as little more than a way for some Government officials to further fill their personal bank accounts – in all honesty any tourist looking for cheap sex, sun and sea is not going to be deterred by a measly 500 baht.
Government officials however put a different slant on the levy in that the additional funds will help central government promote Thailand’s tourist industry and step up measures to ensure that foreigners do not overstay their visa conditions.
The Government is asserting that data currently analyzed by the Department of Immigration has revealed that approximately 100,000 foreigners are currently residing in the Kingdom without permission to do so – a trend they intend to stamp out.
Tourism in Thailand really took off in the 1970′s and this was mainly made up of backpackers who wanted to trek through the vast rain-forests and explore hidden tropical treasures.
Of course during the Vietnam War, Thailand also became a refuge for many U.S Service personnel and as such it quickly developed the reputation as the one place in South East Asian where the females would do almost anything for a few dollars – this reputation has not only stuck but continues to grow.
Despite the recent announcement of the 500 baht levy, tourist officials remain adamant that such a fee will not deter visitors; in fact the TAT have already released a press statement to that effect noting that tourism has grown by 20% from 2012 and that 2013 will therefore be a record year.
Let’s assume that a traveler is not planning on visiting Thailand for its usual fair of bright lights, blaring techno music, cheap beer and of course the guarantee of very cheap sex. Let’s assume that a family, Dad, Mum and two young children want to visit.
Would if such a levy put them off visiting?
Life, in many parts of the western hemisphere, is pretty tough; there are growing austerity measures and we still haven’t recovered from the 2008 financial crash – some might argue that we never will.
There are some Thai business people who have already told Government officials that such a levy will be detrimental to their business as this might deter families from visiting Thailand.
All that apart, what about these so-called ‘quality’ tourists? These are obviously high net worth individuals; you know the multi-millionaires or billionaires of this world.
This market segment does in fact occur in Thailand, although the perception is in very small numbers.
So what is deterring these big spenders from visiting in greater numbers which may well result in larger amounts of tourist dollars being pumped into the economy?
The answer to that lies in the current system that the Thais have long supported, the cheap beer and sex scene; along with all the scams and rip-offs that affect tourists. Yes, this has been a lucrative way to make money but most high net worth individuals don’t need to frequent the seedy bars for cheap beer or sex and they certainly don’t want to visit a destination where there are high levels of corruption and crime targeted against the tourist.
There are plenty of business models for the Thais to consider, such as Singapore, Monaco, the South of France and indeed numerous other playgrounds where the super rich indulge themselves.
Unfortunately considering looking into these business models appears not to be the remit – it’s as if the Thais don’t want to admit they got it wrong and then have to follow a working model developed by foreigners.
It is, in any right minded individual, a ludicrous notion, but Thailand has this childish perception that they would ‘lose face’ and therefore it is either their way, which is not working, or no way – despite the fact they want another way.
The new levy of 500 baht appears too many foreigners as another way for the greedy and corrupt to get their snouts into yet another Government created trough – see some of the comments on ThaiVisa.
Some Thai businesses and local authorities are calling the new 500 baht levy a serious mistake due to the declining tourist industry (a view that contradicts TAT).
With the rising level of crime, especially violent crime against tourists; including bag snatching, mugging, rape and murder many see a marked decline in the last five years alone of western tourists.
On top of these issues there are also other areas that need attention such as the Jet Ski and Taxi rip-offs and extortion. Some business leaders in the tourist industry state that these are the issues that are now deterring western tourists and that by introducing a 500 baht levy to enter the country is just folly and will go no way in helping to resolve all the major issues that could, if addressed, not only increase overall tourism but might attract the ‘quality’ tourist that Government officials appear so obsessed with.
The best laid plans of mice and men… yes, that really does appear to be the case and despite the recent action plan in sending in the heavy guns, the Department of Special Investigation, in order to stamp out corruption, foreign tourist scams and violence such an act has achieved, in the last two months, no tangible results or evidence that those behind all the corruption have been bought to book.
It really does appear that the Thai Government are simply making this stuff up as they go along and as any seasoned business person will tell you – it’s not possible to make a sustainable profit from fleecing your customers and blindly clutching at straws in order to find a solution
Such a practice has nothing to do with due diligence that could ever produce a sustainable business model for the Thai tourism industry.