Thailand is set to release comprehensive gastronomy guidelines for the Asean region by the end of this year to facilitate the recovery of tourism figures, after the industry has been hurt by a string of challenges, including dangerous air pollution in the North, the global economic slowdown and the strengthening of the baht.
As this year’s Asean chair, Thailand has listed up to 13 “economic deliverables”, most aiming to increase trade in commodities and boost the development of industry 4.0. However, the list includes a masterplan to boost the region’s export of services through tourism.
“Completing the gastronomical guidelines for the Asean region by the end of this year is part of our goal as Asean chair,” said Auramon Supthaweethum, director-general at the Commerce Ministry’s Department of Trade Negotiations (DTN).
The drafting and approval processes for the guidelines will be done by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), with the final draft to be completed by the year-end.
The aim of the guidelines is to increase the connectivity and networking of the different tourism communities in the Asean region, with an emphasis on food quality, safety and hygiene, Auramon explained.
For example, one of the routes in the guidelines is the “Asean Peranakan and Nature Trail”, which will cover multiple tourist areas from Penang and Langkawi in Malaysia to Satun, Krabi and Phuket in Thailand.
“Food consumption makes up half of the total income in the tourism industry. The guidelines are geared at increasing tourists’ awareness of the key dining areas along the Asean tourist routes, thus increasing the income of local communities there,” said the director-general.
Koh Lipe (Lipe Island), located in the southern Thai province of Satun, is included as part of the Asean Peranakan and Nature Trail. Local businesses could see long-term benefits from the guidelines, but the tourism industry also currently faces deeper problems.
“The immediate issue we are facing is the slump in the level of tourists since mid-2018, which has continued until the present,” said Rachot Suntudkan, managing director of Idyllic Resort, Koh Lipe. “Up to 60 per cent of Satun’s total income is from tourism on Koh Lipe. However, since the middle of 2018, there has been a reduction of 20 to 30 per cent in the number of tourists visiting the island.”
Last year, the total income from tourism on Koh Lipe was Bt500 million. During the December to February peak season of tourism on the island, the hotel reservation rate stood at 80 per cent. However, Rachot expects the reservation rate to slump back to 60 per cent after the high season is over. Hotel managers at Koh Lipe have called for more immediate action to address various issues, including infrastructure development to increase the ease of travelling for tourists from the mainland to the island. They expect reservation rates to recover, albeit temporarily, during the Songkran festival.
At present, Chiang Mai has only a 60 per cent reservation level after being affected by a high levels of air pollution. Bangkok and Pattaya have similar bookings at 60 per cent. The southern region has bookings of 70 to 80 per cent, according to the Thai Hotel Association (THA).
“The hotel occupancy rate for Songkran this year is expected to decrease by 5 per cent year on year due to the impact of the smog crisis. This has led to lower reservations by foreign tourists compared to the same period last year,” said Supawan Tanomkieatipume, president of the THA, in a separate interview.
“Hotel operators hope to see more last-minute bookings in the days leading up to the Songkran festival,” she said.