Opinion: Extending tourism benefits to locals

Charan Sangsarn has been the Secretary General of the Phuket Chamber of Commerce since 2014. He’s earned Bachelor’s degrees from the Faculty of Law, Ramkhamhaeng University and Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, as well as one from the Faculty of Public Administration, Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University. He also has a Master’s degree in Political Science from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University and Ramkhamhaeng University.

Here, he talks about the need to expand Phuket’s exhibition industry to further benefit locals.

PHUKET: This is the number one tourist destination in the country, bringing 300 billion baht in revenue to Thailand every year. However, most tourists go to the famous beaches and islands, rather than spending their time and money in local communities.

As a result, many local communities don’t benefit from the rapid growth of tourism across the province. Development projects must be planned to bring a higher quality of life and income to local communities, not just to touristic locales.

I’ve always been told that many tourists would prefer to see the locals’ way of life and the true local environment, but they’re unsure of how to get there or what to do if they manage to get somewhere off the beaten path.

The government of Phuket generally focuses on a specific type of tourism, which we in the industry refer to as Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) tourism. This offers the opportunity to integrate tourists with local communities, by targeting convention venues in community areas, not just at touristic hotels and accompanying ballrooms.

By targeting urban areas with MICE tourism, we could improve locals’ income by introducing tourist demand they would otherwise lose to more traditionally touristic areas. By anchoring conventions in urban areas, tourists will have a chance to experience local products, food and handmade crafts.

Hotel entrepreneurs could be major players in bringing this dream to life, by linking private bus routes between hotels and urban communities. Moreover, if convention venues are placed near the community, locals will have a chance to work closer to home.

I agree that some routes have road problems, but we must plan for how to make visitors feel comfortable by providing convenient transportation.

We need to move away from the ideas that accommodation in hotels and the convention venues themselves should be in the same place. In fact, if this is not so, visitors will be able to see the beautiful, attractive environment of Phuket during their journey.

During a conference, visitors will be able to eat unique local food, cooked in a traditional way. Locals will no doubt be proud of this because they’ll be able to provide food to foreigners and Thai people from other regions.

It would be a shame if the Mai Khao Convention Center doesn’t come to pass. I recently heard that the government does not want to build it because of high initial costs. We must rely on the entrepreneurship of the private sector to see this project through.

In addition, infrastructure like water supply and electricity must be available and ready, otherwise visitors will not be confident with the standards of Phuket.

We would also have to standardize areas around local conventions. For example, toilets, especially in gas stations, always draw complaints from tourists about their uncleanliness. In some places, we’d need to improve facilities like these in order to accommodate MICE visitors.

We also need to place signs directing visitors to local food venues and build local food courts like in shopping malls.

The food or products being sold in these areas would also have to be accredited by officials in order to guarantee the quality. That way, tourists will not get diarrhea or have bad memories from buying local products.

We’ve already made some progress in trying to stimulate local economies, particularly after the Interior Ministry designated us as a social enterprise initiative region. However, I think local officials could help get the ball rolling by exploring the potential benefits of MICE tourism for local communities.

— Sukawin Tanthavanich

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