CHIANG MAI, 15 June 2017: Calling tourism a heart-to-heart business Thailand’s Minster of Tourism and Sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, is counting on communities to spread tourism dollars across the country.
The minister was the opening speaker at Thailand Travel Mart’s Tourism Trend Talk Forum, Wednesday, hosted in Chiang Mai.
The forum addressed the challenges of community-based tourism, food tourism and issues linked to safety.
She made an impassioned plea to Thailand’s tourism industry to step up to the plate and work with the government to spread economic benefits across the country to smaller towns and communities.
“We are aiming at quality not head counts,” she said claiming Thailand’s tourism would generate USD80 billion in earnings.
“Wealth distribution is important so that tourism benefits smaller towns, not just major destinations …the duty of government is to enhance sustainability at all levels.”
She said the government faces the challenge of tackle impacts on the environment and improving the quality of life.
“We have to establish effective management of resources, tackle the issues of pollution of our earth, water, air and even our garbage.”
Her comments on tackling air pollution reminded tourism operators based in Chiang Mai and north of the annual slump in travel, March to April, caused mainly by smog that blankets the north due to forest fires and agricultural burning. Efforts so far have not eliminated the problem that requires regional cooperation and hoteliers across the region watch occupancies dip dramatically as the burning season approaches.
Repeating a theme that the minister touches on in most of her presentations, she said it was important to recognise tourism goes beyond economics and profits.
“It is about how much we care, give to others, not just the profits we earn.”
The core of her presentation touched on efforts to raise the benchmark and awareness in community-based tourism, a segment that has not figured highly in the country’s tourism plans in the past.
In the pursuit of quality tourism the minister talks about raising tourism spend, extending average length of stay to around 9.5 days and increasing the already high repeat travel percentage to 70%.
But just days earlier the ministry revised its forecast for 2018 to 34 million visitors this year and of that almost 30% will be generated by mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
China buyers dominate spread of buyers at the TTM this year and there are calls to shift the emphasis in this massive market to quality travel rather than low-revenue earning tour groups.
Efforts to expand community-based tourism are underway spurred by statistics that show 30% of the country’s tourism revenue spend goes on accommodation, 20% on food and beverage and 25% on shopping, all items that could boost the economic outlook of community-based tourism.
“It’s about closing a gap in society bringing extra income to communities and achieving sustainable growth,” the minister told the audience.
Thailand has technically been in the community-based tourism for more than 20 years, but even the minister acknowledges there is still a considerable way to go and many lessons to learn.
She praised neighbouring Myanmar for leading developments admitting she has a lot to learn from her counterparts in Myanmar on how to grow community-based tourism in a sustainable manner.
She touched on the need to create a business model for communities that will also ensure the travel experience is not compromised due to its success.
Out of Thailand’s 32 million visitors in 2016, around 7.18 million visitors spent time at a community-based project.
Noting that 264 projects have been registered in the country with 150 of them located in north and northeast provinces, she said another 99 projects are under development.
Most of them are located in provinces close to border with Thailand’s neighbours Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Travel executives busy selling their wares at the TTM today probably view the minister’s emotional pleas to think beyond profit and support a sustainable business model as largely theoretical.
They often ask for practical measures that will show the Minister has moved on from inspiration and emotional heart-felt statements to deliver better governance of the industry at all levels. Some of the steps she needs to take, however, might be painful for an industry that is used to free-wheeling and growing the business without much attention to sustainable principles.