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26 Jun, 2006

Thai Industry Executives Comment on Applying “Sufficiency Economy” in Tourism

The Royal events commemorating His Majesty the King’s 60th anniversary celebrations gained Thailand a slew of positive global publicity and also generated some thinking about the applicability of the royal “sufficiency economy” theories to travel & tourism.

Eight senior industry executives, all Thais, responded to a survey seeking comment on the recent celebrations and their potential impact on the future of Thai travel and tourism, from both a marketing and development perspective. Their comments follow. They have been edited slightly for space and clarity:

Suchada Yuvaboon, Managing Director, Rose Garden Riverside:

The celebrations were a one and only “historical royal familiarisation trip” and a bonanza for the country. Thailand gained confidence and colossal PR worldwide. A direct gain for the industry. We should apply the “Sufficiency Economy” guidelines when planning the National Tourism Policy, not to overstretch ourselves but to bring in the number of tourists that fit our infrastructure support, human resources, as well as gauging and countering the impact on communities and the environment.

Prapansak Bhatayanond, Vice Chairman and Senior Deputy Managing Director, Imperial Hotels Group:

The Royal Celebrations were magnificent. The presence of monarchs from 25 countries contributed a great deal to the goodwill of Thailand. However, the organizers of the events, either they be the government, TAT, TG, etc. overlooked the chance to make use of them to promote tourism during the week of celebrations. There was too little information. Even as a Thai, I only knew of the detailed celebrations programs in the last few days. Had there been good planning in distributing the information well beforehand to tour operators, Thai tourism would have benefited tremendously.

The “sufficiency economy” issue is quite difficult to interpret. I see His Majesty’s theory as a philosophy which is very difficult to explain in terms of tangible value. I see it as a means to live according to your social circle i.e. if you were a farmer, it is how you can live sufficiently and comfortably in your own community. Thus, you would not have to move to big cities and suffer loss of earnings. Should all the people live contentedly in their very own community, this is “sufficiency economy”.

However, I cannot figure out how TAT can adapt this theory to promote tourism. Let’s say if TAT wants to adapt this theory for agriculture, then there should be a model village to demonstrate how it can achieve this goal by applying His Majesty’s theory. Then the tourists visiting the village could clearly understand the meaning. It depends on how people interpret this valuable philosophy.

Tharnatep Pintusarn, Managing Director, Educational Travel Centre:

There can be no doubt that the celebrations created a very positive image of Thailand that will greatly balance the negative publicity the country has been receiving over the current political situation and the violence in the South. People overseas will have seen that these problems are not major when compared with the peace and unity that generally prevails under the reign of His Majesty. I am sure it will do much to enhance Thailand’s reputation as a desirable tourist destination.

With regard to “sufficiency economy”, true eco-tourism can definitely play a part, but it must be true eco-tourism, not just more mass tourism with a little environmental concern thrown in as window dressing. This is something both the Government and the private sector need to address more seriously.

Chadathip Suwatsiripon, Products Manager, Educational Travel Centre:

The celebrations showed our pure and sincere gratitude towards our beloved King. I was among those yellow crowd and also cried during that memorable event. Our King is a great man. So in terms of tourism, TAT and all concerned bodies should follow his path by concentrating more and more on quality of Thailand travel destinations, than on volume or numbers of visitors.

Khun Somkid (Jatusripitak, the deputy PM in charge of tourism) should not talk about how much money tourists will bring to our country but about how to transfer the King’s message about “sufficiency economy” properly. By thinking how to improve quality of tourism products sustainably, I am very sure Thailand tourism will grow steadily in the long run. Not like nowadays that let the rich Thais and foreigners take advantage of our resources then fly away after all resources are ruined.

Pornthip Samerton, Managing Director, Destination Asia Thailand:

The events can only have a positive impact on tourism for Thailand. They showed that Thailand is capable of hosting any event. They also showed how much Thai people love and revere their King. The events provided a much needed diversion from politics, thus providing a respite from the usual faces seen in the media. The events were about the King and the people and everything else was secondary. Visually, on televisions around the world, the scenes would have been nothing short of fascinating, even for those who have previously travelled to Thailand. There would be few better promotional opportunities than this.

There is value in adapting the principles of ‘sufficiency economy’ to tourism. The way it is being touted as ‘the middle path’ is very closely linked to Buddhist principles and therefore in keeping with most Thai people’s culture and religion. It is similar to ‘sustainable’ tourism, which we all know has benefits for everybody. There are already some projects in Community based tourism that reflect the principles of sufficiency economy. The eco-tourism industry also can benefit from these principles, to ensure that the environment is upheld. For example, controlling visitor numbers to sensitive areas.

Tourism policy could utilize sufficiency economy principles, by focusing more on obtaining revenues as opposed to sheer volume of visitors. There could be efforts to create more opportunities to increase visitor spending as opposed to increasing the number of arrivals. Overall, there is definitely value in paying attention to these principles during any planning or decision making.

Sumate Sudasna, Managing Director, CDM Thailand:

Lack of advance information aside, the celebrations were of phenomenal publicity benefits to Thailand. In a way it is better this way as advance publicity could have been too much and spoiled nice surprises. The events received worldwide exposure and of extra emphasis were the countries where monarchy were here or represented. We received notes of congratulations from Belgium and the Netherlands. There is no other event near this magnitude in the past and of which Thais are especially proud to be a part.

The “follow the royal footsteps” programs which are being promoted will work for arrivals of some markets. The places are accessible to all anyway, except the palaces where the official proceedings took place. I wish Anantasamakom Throne Hall can become available for banquets of some special event one of these days.

Sufficiency economy has always been our philosophy… although this could be interpreted as stagnation in a bustling commercial world where the big get bigger. We are not marketing-aggressive and, as the gurus say – to retain customers, it takes under 10% of the cost to get new ones. Some need to constantly get new customers to replace existing ones being lost. We have no ambition to expand and cover neighbouring destinations in order to ‘not miss the boat’ but rather develop a network of likeminded independent companies in each with whom we can refer business and share information.

At a more macro level, sufficiency economy is an absolute must, as well-planned development and nurturing of our resources will ensure quality retention and true sustainability. We know that this hasn’t been the case in any destination in Thailand, but it is not too late and the action not only has to be from the government, but the monitoring and effective enforcement also has to be firm and constant.

Sandy Rattanavalee, General Manager, Eastin Bangkok hotel:

Amidst the political turmoil that’s going on in our country – the Royal Celebration couldn’t have come at a better time. We all witnessed the overwhelming love and respect all Thai people have for our King. For some people who have been thinking that our beloved King is only a figurehead, they can rethink and re-evaluate their ideologies again. What people from all over the world witnessed is 100 times more effective than what the TAT has tried to do to promote Thailand for years.

On the “Sufficiency Economy”, OTOP is a good example and it has helped many rural poor people to have better income, therefore improving their standard of living. You cannot get rid of poverty in 2-3 years time like some people in the government have been saying. There are too many poor people in Thailand and you will never be able to get rid of poverty for everybody within a foreseeable future – so stop political propaganda!!

Parichote Sukriket, Managing Director, World Splendour Holidays:

The Royal Celebrations went right all the way. I only see positive results. Thailand as a monarchy is now known to the world. I could not imagine that so many Royal families of many countries would be meeting here. So many beautiful scenes were shown to the world. This will surely attract tourists from all over the world to come to Thailand. The country should be considered one of the safest places to visit.

My company has already followed the King’s concept of “sufficiency economy” after the economic crisis (of 1997). We did not expand beyond our control and we have been able to survive up to now.

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