November 10, 2012 00:00 By BAMRUNG AMNATCHAROENRIT
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports yesterday finally signed an Asean Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) on tourism professionals, delayed for years by legal barriers.
According to the Constitution, any international agreement that will bring about changes in Thailand must be approved by Parliament. While other Asean member states signed such MRAs to prepare for the Asean Economic Community in 2015, this one was held back in the Kingdom by political troubles.
The move is expected to help Thailand maintain its leadership in the hospitality industry while promoting regional service standardisation.
“It is not too late for Thailand. There will be time to discuss the issue at the Asean summit in Phnom Penh soon,’’ Tourism Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa said.
Yesterday he attended the signing ceremony along with delegates from other Asean member states, who welcomed the move. Surin Pitsuwan, Asean secretary-general, said he had a strong expression that tourism would be a key driver of economic prosperity in the region as it is promoted as a single destination.
The MRA on tourism professionals is the sixth such agreement, as 32 job titles come under the Asean Minimum Competency Standards. Five professions are recognised by the bloc: medicine, nursing, dentistry, engineering, and architectural services.
Chumpol said the MRA would help standardise the tourism industry across the region, benefiting not only consumers who will receive higher-quality service, but also tour and hotels operators, who will have more opportunity to employ skilled workers.
“However, the profession will not really |be fully open because each nation has domestic laws to protect its businesses,’’ the minister said.
Surin said tourism in Asean was very important for the bloc’s economy. Currently, about 10 million people work in the industry, with nearly another 25 million indirectly involved. Many of these are in Thailand.
Tourism accounts for 5 per cent of the bloc’s gross domestic product, and Thailand has a big slice of this cake.
Surin said that in 1991, only 20 million travellers from outside the region visited Southeast Asia, but now they number 82 million a year. Tourism will play a rising role in the future if Asean is combined as a single destination.