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11 Jun, 2001

Thai Tourism Seeks Ways to Get 40-Year-Old Goose To Keep Laying Eggs

Having completed a week-long meeting of its senior officials last week, the Tourism Authority of Thailand is today set to announce one of its most significant revisioning programmes since the agency was created in 1960.

Like many other regional national tourism organisations which are doing the same for their own industries, the TAT is trying to breathe new life into the Thai tourism product and set in place strategies to ensure steady, sustainable growth in the future.

There is growing realisation that if the industry goose is to lay the additional 50 billion baht worth of golden eggs that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has targeted, it is going to have to first take better care of the goose itself.

The TAT is projecting that about 10.3 million geese will visit the country this year, up about 8.3% over 2000, and generate about 320 billion baht worth of golden eggs, up about 12.7% over 2000. The target for 2002, as per the Prime Minister’s wish, is for 11.13 million geese laying eggs valued at about 370 billion baht next year.

However, the past forty years of laying eggs has tired out the poor old goose, and the big question is how best to keep it laying better quality eggs than those of competing geese within the region and beyond.

Three major strategies are set to emerge: a) fix some of those long-standing and well-known problems at home that affect the quality of the visitor experience; b) broaden the range of places and products that visitors can avail of while here; and c) diversify the source-market countries from which the visitors come.

At the same time, the TAT itself is set to undergo some restructuring, with a hiving off of some of its indirect responsibilities and functions into the hands of other government agencies which are supposed to be taking care of them in the first place. New units will oversee niche-market products like the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibition (Mice) business and see the creation of a special Research and Development Centre under the TAT.

TAT officials say many of these plans have long been in the pipeline. Now, however, they are being quickly actioned in order to capitalise on the personal involvement and instructions of the Prime Minister and his desire to generate quick economic results.

The driving force behind this entire exercise is the need to attain balance in the way the industry is managed.

There is a need to balance mass-market visitors, such as those from China and Korea, with the promotion of more high-yield visitors from mature source-markets seeking more experiential and lifestyle holidays like learning how to cook or meditate.

There is a need to balance over-exposure of popular – and congested — destinations like Phuket, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and others in holiday brochures with other less-visited provinces across different parts of the country which have a formidable range of natural, cultural and historic attractions but which lack the infrastructure, organisational and regulatory capacities to manage those attractions.

And finally, there is a need to balance the TAT’s own direct responsibilities – which is to market and promote the country’s tourism industry – with those of product-care responsibilities that actually belong to other government agencies.

The National Tourism workshop chaired by the PM in Chiang Mai last April led to the creation of another National Tourism Development Committee under Deputy PM Pongpol Adireksarn to ‘co-ordinate’ and implement these product-care responsibilities, effectively taking them away from under the TAT.

These include real significant issues like proper zoning, environmental regulations, involvement of local communities, enforcement of laws, crime, etc., all of which have been the real cause for the degradation of the Thai tourism product.

Over the last few years, tourism has been one of the bright spots of the national economy. One dominant reason why visitor arrivals remain strong and are set to cross the 10 million mark this year is because of the political and social strife that has hit Thailand’s tourism competitors: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, the Philippines and now, Nepal, all countries with rich cultural, historic and religious heritage.

But this instability is unlikely to continue forever. In all cases, when countries begin to return to normalcy, one of the first actions is to launch a strong welcome-back tourism promotion campaign through mouth-watering discounts and other goodies. Such ‘deals’ can play a significant role in shifting market-share.

If the Thai tourism product cannot retain its price-competitive edge in the face of these campaigns, it is going to lose market share. Moreover, in a world in which consumers are being bombarded by a myriad of claims and offers, there is a growing tendency to fall back on the recommendation of those people most trusted by consumers: their friends, families and colleagues.

That makes it imperative to ensure that the word-of-mouth marketing message remains high, which in turn means ensuring that the eggs are of good quality and available at a good price – and remain that way.

The TAT plans set to be unveiled today were forged with all branches of government agencies, the private sector, academia, local people and non-governmental organisations – the first time such a broad and comprehensive consultation process has taken place. If the plans are to succeed, the TAT is making it clear to these stakeholders that after having contributed ideas on what should be done, they also now need to effectively contribute to getting it done.

Failure to do so will certainly mean the end of the golden goose.

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