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26 May, 2003

Throwing Marketing Money at Crisis May Not Prove Effective, Industry Execs Say

While there is a good deal of support for the government’s move to launch multi-million baht roadshows to address the short-term need to bring back visitors this low season, there is concern that the money is being spent in a highly imbalanced way that overlooks simpler and more long-term solutions.

Interviews with industry leaders indicated that while the roadshows may be necessary to help tap what little desire to travel and purchasing power that still exists and maintain Thailand’s edge in the face of competition from other countries, there is concern about whether those huge amounts are being spent productively enough.

Said Mr Alwin Zecha, Chairman of Pacific Leisure, who also lectures extensively on tourism marketing, “There appears to be a feeling that the problem can be solved by throwing money at it. But it’s not a question of how much money but how productively, efficiently and creatively it is spent.”

He said he was not sure how effective the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s promotion in Japan would be.

“They (the Japanese travel trade) will take the money and say ‘thank you, we will promote your country.’ But how will the results be measured? They ought to have come up with ways to motivate the tour operators in ways that would allow the two sides to do joint public relations and promotions and the tour operators could get additional funds only after they prove how many people actually went to Thailand.”

He said he was also concerned that very little funding was going into human resources development, one of Thailand’s traditionally weak spots and indicative of the wide gap that has existed between the marketing and management of Thai tourism.

Mr Zecha said this was a golden opportunity to help the local universities, training colleges and tourism institutes with subsidies to provide specific courses that would upgrade manpower quality across the board, from language skills to information technology.

At least money would remain in the country and help create skills that would be with the students for a lifetime. “I’m sure the educational institutions, many of whom are financially not very well off in the first place, would welcome the opportunity to upgrade the quality of their courses with some outside funding support.”

He noted that this second-class treatment of training institutes was not just a Thai problem but one faced across the Asia-Pacific. NTOs traditionally like to spend huge amounts on advertising in foreign countries, the best way of spending money without any accountability, but do little to support human resources development.

TAT officials reported that as of last week the TAT has received 4.5 million baht for in-house training and 3.7 million baht for an e-learning centre. Another 7.2 million baht has been sought from the Budget Bureau for development of tourism marketing courses for small and medium sized enterprises.

However, these relatively insignificant amounts are in stark contrast to the 2.9 billion baht the TAT has sought for international marketing.

Another industry figure, former TAT governor Sere Wangpaichitr, said he felt the simple solutions needed to be looked at first, and that the government could have channelled the promotional funds into the domestic market — which would also conserve precious foreign exchange earnings.

He noted that there were about 63 million domestic trips taken every year, which generate about 342 billion baht in earnings.

If all government ministries, departments and state enterprises encourage their staff to travel within the country, and if the private companies, industry associations, schools, universities and educational institutions do the same, the result would be a thousands of travellers on the move year-round, he said.

The government could adjust the line-up of annual public holidays such that some which fall mid-week can be attached to a weekend, thus creating more long-weekend holidays when most of the domestic travel peaks, he said.

Mr Seree, who was once head of the development arm of the TAT before making governor, questioned the practicality of spending so much money abroad when the quality of the product itself is suffering at home. He pointed to the need for general maintenance at various tourist sites, improved quality of toilets and road signage.

The government could also look at other ideas like a tourism version of One Tambon One Product, he said. Something along the lines of One Province One Attraction would allow each province to designate one unique place that visitors could see.

Mr Seree, presently dean of the tourism faculty at Rangsit university, supported Mr Zecha’s call for educational institutions to be assisted. He said many things could be done, like bringing in experts to lecture on various disciplines or organising small conferences on specific subjects.

Thailand is a SARS-free country, he said. “We are having less of a problem here than other regional countries. If more money was to be spent on bringing people to the country to teach, it would upgrade manpower quality and facilitate technology transfer that would become a national asset, both today and in the long-term.”

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