BANGKOK, 3 February 2017: I could be accused of harping on about zero-dollar tours, beating the subject dry, but it’s been around a long, long time, probably longer than we care to imagine.
In 1976, I wrote my first account of zero-dollar tourism in Thailand, while working for the Bangkok Post. The zero-dollar tour business model was a topic for a slow news day along with the second airport project in the swampland of Nong Ngu Hao and a pie-in-the-sky train dream.
Taiwanese and Hong Kong tour operators were the culprits in those bad old days, but the business model was almost the same. Guides queued to present their bids to lead a tour. They lived off the commissions that more than compensated them for the pay off to the overseas supplier.
China’s tour operators just fine-tuned a rather successful business formula. That’s the polite term for what is generally recognised as a scam in today’s environment of consumer protection and fair trade principles.
Over the years, Tourism Authority of Thailand officials and later the Ministry of Tourism and Sports made valiant attempts to rid Thailand of zero-dollar tours. They failed over and over again. The players were far too powerful and always outsmarted those who thought they had shaken the scam by the roots. They hadn’t; the practice adapted and the scams continued.
Or course, it is always painful when you dig out a cancerous growth and there are always doubts that the tough post operative regime will result in a long-term cure.
Zero-dollar operatives are smart and PR savvy. They are quick to tell us how much the country has lost because Chinese tourists stayed home after the crackdown.
This publication wholeheartedly supports the government’s crackdown. Simply put there is not a dime of benefit flowing to anyone except a small group of companies and guides who prosper from taking consumers to the cleaners. For everyone else it delivers zero profit and for the government zero tax.
It just doesn’t fit with today’s world and the aspirations to move Thailand’s tourism up a notch or two on the quality scale.
Ultimately, travel consumers will kill zero-dollar tours. They will vote with their feet. Chinese travellers, especially repeat visitors know there viable alternatives to book online and explore the country without a travel agent. The masters of scam tours recognise it is time to pack up and go for good.