Experts with long experience in the tourism industry have outlined two major problems that have been holding back the sector for many years and need to be reformed for long-term competitiveness.
The first problem is that data and statistics provided by official bodies is inaccurate, and the second is that political power over the tourism sector is too centralised.
“These are the biggest problems for the Thai tourism industry and have been hurting the entire sector for decades. As a result, the industry is now facing the risk of collapse and losing its strength,” one senior expert said.
These two big issues were raised in response to the appointment of a new tourism minister, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul.
Members of this high-profile group claim 30-50 years of experience in the industry, some in the Tourism Authority of Thailand, as well as major hotel players and representatives of key travel firms and private-sector associations.
According to Apichart Sankary, former president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), certain authorities have forced organisations to provide unrealistic data, especially on international arrival numbers, or often provide only optimistic information to public.
He claimed that some information given out by officials was inaccurate. One mistake is counting one-day cross-border trippers as tourists. Moreover, arrivals are not categorised clearly, such as whether they are for business, leisure, long stays and so on, but are counted as one category, “tourist”.
For instance, the official number of international arrivals between January and August this year was 15 million, down from 17 million in the same period last year, or a 10-per-cent drop. But ATTA’s statistics showed that arrivals during those eight months plunged by 40 per cent year on year.
“Officials are claiming high numbers of tourist just for budgetary reasons,” he said.
One hotelier, who declined to be named, said the tourism industry had been dominated by a single political party for about 12-15 years. He strongly advised the government to reform the travel sector by cleaning up inaccurate statistics and data and providing real information to the public as well as business operators.
ML SuravutThongthaem, senior vice president for development and owner relations for Southeast Asia at Onyx Hospitality Group, urged the government to enhance human-resource development and also consider issuing some regulations to preserve local management in order to strengthen long-term competitiveness.
Crackdowns on illegal hotels, apartments and residences should also be carried out ahead of the opening of the Asean Economic Community next year.
Furthermore, improvements in infrastructure and connectivity are needed as soon as possible, while tourist security is another issue to consider. “Those who are going invest overseas should have full support from the government,” he added.
Kobkarn on Monday assured her team and the private sector that her ministry would continue working to increase arrivals and tourism revenue. She also will promote a transparent working system while reducing duplication of tasks in the ministry’s departments.
The new minister plans to promote secondary tourist cities to help small and medium-sized businesses, promote tourism through social media and online channels, and make immigration procedures less time-consuming.