Posted by on Sep 13, 2014 in TAT, Thailand

With Thai Tourism down for eight consecutive months, and a viral video showing a beach lounge chair vendor kicking sand and getting violent with a Russian tourist on Koh Larn, The Nation has put out a fairly decent editorial but it only scratches the surface of Thailand’s tourism problems.

The problems with Thai Tourism go back many years and have a lot to do with attitude and the Thai way of thinking – Thainess.

Thai Tourism Sukhumvit Road

Thai Tourism Sukhumvit Road

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has been operating in a vacuum thinking that each and every year more tourists will come to the Kingdom than the previous year.  And, if they didn’t, well, the TAT and Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports would just lie about the Thai Tourism numbers and how much revenue tourism added to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Thai Tourism has weathered some short-term storms – the 2004 tsunami, 2008 takeover of Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the 2010 riots in Bangkok, and the 2011 flooding. But, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has never seen such a long term setback – 8 consecutive months of fewer foreign tourist arrivals compared to 2013. And, then, to top it off, this video pops up:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEZ7XicTTLs

It didn’t take long for the ruling dictators to round up this character claiming that he is either Burmese or Cambodian and telling all that he would be deported. Supposedly, according to Ping, the beach bully vendor, this happened last year.  Regardless, it has severely damaged Thai Tourism and happens more than people think.

So, The Nation addressed this and a few other things that are wrong with Thai Tourism but miss many of the bigger issues.

The reputation of Thailand’s once-idyllic beaches is by now badly marred by such images of greedy and aggressive chair-for-rent operators whose staff intimidate and chase off tourists when they refuse to play by their rules on “their turf”.

The simple solution isn’t mentioned.  I have seen it in action all over Krabi – at Ao Nang, Ao Nopparat Thara, Railay Beach, and the beaches on Koh Lanta – NO BEACH UMBRELLAS/LOUNGERS – except for those at 4-5 star hotels and only for their guests.  It also worked all throughout Hawaii where tourists bring a towel or mat to the beach and sit on that.  Also, no mention of jet-ski scams, speed boats zooming in areas where people are swimming, no mention of a standard system of warning flags with warnings in multiple languages, and no mention of setting up swimming areas roped off specifically for swimmers.

The government has vowed to bring a semblance of order to the tourist beaches, but the deep roots of these problems temper our optimism. They will require more than flash-in-the-pan measures to solve.

Actually, the current ruling Junta has done what previous governments have done – pretend to care. We have seen beach restaurants and bars destroyed for encroaching, taxi mafia rousted from the airport, and sidewalks cleared of vendors during the day.  But, it is all a show and will be back to normal soon.

I saw it in Bangkok on Sukhumvit Road.  Vendors were told they could not set up until 1900.  By the second week, they were setting up at 1800 and by week three, some were setting up at 1700.

First is the lack of proper regulation and control. Obviously, a better-regulated tourism industry would simply not allow such ugly incidents to happen.

No.  This is always the answer.  Make new Thai Tourism laws.  Sorry, laws are in place but not enforced.  There are laws regarding unobstructed footpaths.  Laws that require the meter be used  (A buddy of mine picked up his lady at Suvarnabhumi yesterday and the airport-run taxi guy wanted 400 baht with no meter for a 250 baht ride), and there are laws that beaches belong to the people – not for people to open a business on them.

The second issue is the exploitative mentality of the business people who focus solely on immediate profits while ignoring the longer term. The rationale is that foreigners can be intimidated into paying up because they’ll go back home tomorrow and will invariably be replaced by another batch.

This is Thainess. Damn tomorrow, I want money today.  Biggest Thai Tourism problem for the Tourism Authority of Thailand is that the batches aren’t coming.

Tourists are routinely overcharged in this country. Illegal businesses operate with impunity and have thus multiplied like mushrooms, despite the cutthroat competition that often leads to violence.

Foreigners are overcharged at Thai Government run state and national parks.  Illegal businesses thrive because they pay Thai Government employees and/or Thai Police to operate and violence against tourists is met with a 500 baht fine.

It must be noted, too, that Thais tend to be “overconfident” when it comes to the very scenery that draws Westerners here – the beaches, the mountains, the temples included. As long as these remain, the tourists will keep coming, no matter how tainted the country’s reputation becomes. This is dangerously flawed logic.

This is the BIG issue for the Tourism Authority of Thailand – an organization that continues to think that they can still operate like they did in the 50’s – conventions, familiarization trips, contests – and keep promoting the same old elephants, temples and markets. Here is the latest Thai Tourism video from the Tourism Authority of Thailand – narrated by a Brit:

The Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Ministry of Tourism and Sports are a big part of the reason that Thai Tourism is down by more that 10% for the year (reality is that it is closer to 40% of real tourists).  I saw this last week – or, I should say, I didn’t see – tourists.  Very, very few in Bangkok.

I was offered one of the oldest Thai Tourism scams in Bangkok almost every day – tuk tuk for 50 baht for one hour to see Bangkok.  He would have taken me to jewelry store where he would get a commission.

If Thais are renowned in general for being gracious hosts, there is also a lack of political will to preserve that reputation.

Correct.  The Tourism Authority of Thailand still believes that Thailand is value for one’s dollar and that the Land of Smiles still exists.  They are wrong on both counts.

Our policies and regulations are formulated and enforced according to the belief that the tourism industry is “too big to fail”.

Not quite. Policies and regulations are not enforced or are selectively enforced in order to extort money from foreigners – jet ski scams, no helmet on a motorcycle, and stuffing your bin with drink tabs that you didn’t order.

Too often we are content with quick-fix responses to unfavourable occurrences. When overpricing is in the headlines, someone gets slapped and policy is quickly amended – only for the changes to be rescinded or forgotten in short order. The same pattern can be seen as the seriousness of the issue rises – with increasingly tragic consequences – from robbery to rape to murder.

The Thai Government still lives in the past and thinks what happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand.  They do not grasp the concept of the Internet and/or Social Media. Thailand used to be mysterious and exotic – now it is dirty, expensive and a place to get mugged or raped. Until the Thai Government realizes that one cannot just put a bandage on a sucking chest wound, this will continue.

A couple of Thai Tourism examples:

  • Korean tourists get run over by a speed boat – one guy loses his leg.  Minister of Tourism and Sports brings him a basket of oranges. Thai Government then creates an office to file complaints at.
  • Nineteen foreign envoys complain to the Minister of Tourism and Sports about the rip-offs on Phuket.  Minister promises to look into the 13 complaints.  Nothing is fixed and an office is opened at the airport arrivals area for complaints.
  • Foreigners complain that they don’t receive justice in Thai courts or cannot file charges because they have to depart. Thai Government sets up Tourist Courts in couple locations. I have never heard of anyone using them or knowing where they are.
  • Tourists stop coming to Thailand because they cannot get insurance due to martial law. Tourism Authority of Thailand implements Travel Shield and fails to send out a Press Release. No idea if anyone has purchased and, more importantly, if anyone filed a claim and got satisfaction. TAT would rather pay travel bloggers for shitty articles.

There are many, many more incidents that have impacted Thai Tourism.

Our tourism industry, such a substantial pillar of the economy, depends to a great extent on the beaches.

First off, no one knows how substantial a pillar it is.  It is impossible to know how much any one tourist spends on any given day, yet the Department of Tourism has figures based on nationality – Amazing.  So, it is impossible to know if Thai Tourism accounts for 5%, 7%, or 10% of GDP in Thailand.

Our policy towards the mistreatment of visitors cannot be built on sand.

But, it is has, was, and will be. Farangs are second class citizens in Thailand that are to be used, abused, extorted, cheated, beat up, mugged, raped, and killed.

Again, this all comes down to the attitude of the Thai people.  Some understand that there is a tomorrow – for themselves, their children and grand-children.  Most do not and only want what they can get and damn the rest. Trash, raw sewage, cooking oil, bones, cans, bottles, nails, broken glass, bullets, and metal shrapnel can all be found on Thai beaches. The only beaches that are relatively clean are those that are frequented by foreigners and have that “Krabi” policy in place – Koh Lanta had the cleanest beaches I have seen in Thailand.

Beaches frequented primarily by Thais, are trash receptacles.

The attitude of the Thai people has to change or Thai Tourism will lose out to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the rest of ASEAN.

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