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PATA meeting questions whether Thai culture is good for tourism

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Despite the various shortcomings in Thailand’s service industry, tourists keep coming back, two Thai journalists recently told a tourism meeting in Bangkok.

Attending the meeting, Ken Scott, Managing Director of his own communications firm, ScottAsia Communications, reports:

Thailand is a like a cunning cheer leader, a good looker, an easy date who cheats at her exams and gossips about her friends, but is perpetually popular despite her shortcomings.

Thai tourism authorities are “marketing geniuses but management dunces.”

These were just a few of the claims made at the latest PATA Thailand Chapter debate on January 30 entitled: “Is Thai Culture Good or Bad for the Development of Thailand’s Tourism Industry?”

The keynote speakers were Voranai Vanijaka and Imtiaz Muqbil – both outspoken but respected Thai journalists.

Voranai, a political columnist at the Bangkok Post and lecturer in journalism and mass media at Thammasat University, and Imtiaz, the executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire, debated the delicate subject in front of 50 travel industry professionals at the Chapter’s annual general meeting at a popular Bangkok hotel.

At the start of his speech, Voranai warned listeners that he would be saying things that some people would find offensive.

Bangkok is run by short-sighted leaders and is the victim poor planning, said Voranai.

The streets are festooned with vendors, prostitutes, robbers, stray dogs and their feces.

“But still the tourists come,” he exclaimed.

Tourists are mugged, robbed, raped, scammed and charged double pricing, “but still they come,” he smiled wistfully.

He likened tourists to abused wives. They are beaten, but still they come back. Why? For the most part, he said, because Thailand makes tourists feel safe, at ease, at home. Thais are generous. They will always smile and help you. They take your money and gossip about you afterwards, but at least they are friendly and helpful when you meet.

“There are few places that even give you that,” said Voranai, citing his own experiences in France and Germany.

“Thai culture is good for tourism,” he said. “Thais are a beautiful people, with a lot of skeletons in the closet – we can be had at an affordable price.”

Imtiaz Muqbil, a native of India and now a Thai national, said: “You could shut down all the travel associations, and still tourists would come because the travel industry in Thailand is very good at sweeping things under the carpet.”

Noting that Thai tourism authorities were “marketing geniuses, but management dunces,” he called for truth in tourism and for everyone to ponder five questions:
Are Thais as happy as they used to be?
What happened to the Songkran water festival?
Is Thai cuisine losing its quality as it goes global?
What is an ‘authentic’ experience?
[And in a majority Buddhist country] Do visitors get confused by Thailand’s nightlife and alcohol?

Imtiaz lamented the “clonal-isation” of Thailand typified by massive new retail outlets in the city center. However, there is still real and residual politeness, respect for guests and elders in Thailand that is unmatched, “with the possible sole exception of Bhutan,” he said.

The veteran travel journalist said that Thais should be prouder of their own brands. For example they produce great coffee, but instead imported coffee brands and coffee outlets are everywhere.

In the conflicted cultural space where tourism meets Thai culture, Voranai told the audience that there were two types of tourists that Thais don’t like: big groups of Chinese (“They are loud and annoying, but they are still welcome because we can take their money.”) and sex tourists – “but we’ll still take their money”.

For good measure, he noted that while the sex tourism taints the country’s image, it is “still a small industry compared to the domestic sex business [industry].”

He said the Thailand’s position was: “We want to take your money, but we don’t want a negative image.”

At the vote, the majority of the audience raised their hands to signify that yes, Thai culture is good for Thai tourism. But perhaps it was a moot point.

More pointedly, both speakers identified paths ahead that they preferred.

Imtiaz said that there should be more attention paid to the idea of the “Sufficiency Economy” as advocated by the His Majesty the King. “It should be the driver of everything that we do.”

As comments and questions from the floor were aired, a Thai female travel industry professional, a mother to two daughters, stood and complained: “I hate to be a cheap date! Tell me, what is the way forward for Thailand to stop being a cheap date?”

She meant it. She was both vexed and proud.

Voranai told her: “Thailand needs more people like you, people who will say ‘no’. But to say it takes national effort – and for the government to step in.”

He said he was only a journalist, but PATA and others should “harangue and pressurize” the authorities.

“We should be priceless – nothing can buy us. But it’s up to us make it a reality.”

He added: “What we can become, is more important.”

— Ken Scott / Phuket Gazette

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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The social media giants in battle with ‘old’ media and world governments | VIDEO

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The social media giants in battle with ‘old’ media and world governments | VIDEO | The Thaiger

“The rules signal greater willingness by countries around the world to rein in big tech firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter that the governments fear have become too powerful with little accountability.”

India has issued strict new rules for Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms just weeks after the Indian government attempted to pressure Twitter to take down social media accounts it deemed, well, anti social.

The rules require any social media company to create three roles within India… a “compliance officer” who ensures they follow local laws; a “grievance officer” who addresses complaints from Indian social media users; and a “contact person” who can actually be contacted by lawyers and other aggrieved Indian parties… 24/7.

The companies are also being made to publish a compliance report each month with details about how many complaints they’ve received and the action they took.

They’ll also be required to remove ‘some’ types of content including “full or partial nudity,” any “sexual act” or “impersonations including morphed images”

The democratisation of the news model, with social media as its catalyst, will continue to baffle traditional media and governments who used to enjoy a level of control over what stories get told.

The battles of Google and Facebook, with the governments of India and Australia will be followed in plenty of other countries as well.

At the root of all discussions will be the difference between what governments THINK social media is all about and the reality about how quickly the media landscape has changed. You’ll get to read about it first, on a social media platform… probably on the screen you’re watching this news story right now.

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Turbulence ahead for Thailand’s aviation industry | VIDEO

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Turbulence ahead for Thailand’s aviation industry | VIDEO | The Thaiger

When the airlines, in particular, were asking the government to put their hands in their pockets for some relief funding in August last year, it was genuinely thought that international tourists would be coming back for the high season in December and January. At the very least local tourists and expats would head back to the skies over the traditional holiday break. And surely the Chinese would be back for Chinese New Year?

As we know now, none of that happened. A resurge in cases started just south of Bangkok on December 20 last year, just before Christmas, kicking off another round of restrictions, pretty much killing off any possibility of a high season ‘bump’ for the tourist industry. Airlines slashed flights from their schedule, and hotels, which had dusted off their reception desks for the surge of tourists, shut their doors again.

Domestically, the hotel business saw 6 million room nights in the government’s latest stimulus campaign fully redeemed. But the air ticket quota of 2 million seats still has over 1.3 million seats unused. Local tourists mostly skipped flights and opted for destinations within driving distance of their homes.

As for international tourism… well that still seems months or years away, even now.

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Domestic air passenger numbers double those of January

Maya Taylor

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Domestic air passenger numbers double those of January | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Vietjet

Passenger numbers on domestic flights within Thailand have doubled within a month, rising from 4,000 in January to over 10,000 this month. Having nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, domestic travel plummeted once more when Covid-19 resurfaced late last year.

Apirat Chaiwongnoi from the Department of Airports says 15 of Thailand’s 29 airports are now operating domestic flights, with more expected to follow. He believes the aviation sector will continue to recover further in the coming 6 months, bolstered by the national vaccine rollout.

Around 120 domestic flights a day are now operating, which is twice the number that were operating at the lowest point in the crisis. Prior to the resurgence of the virus in December, domestic passenger numbers had recovered to 30,000 – 40,000 a day, around 80% of pre-pandemic numbers.

The DoA says airports must continue to adhere to the Covid-19 hygiene measures put in place by the Health Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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