CHIANG RAI, 5 February 2018: Just minutes before a media briefing was due to commence at the ASEAN Tourism Forum in Chiang Mai, last month, a hosted journalist tweeted: “The Indonesians know how to organise a media event.”
He was looking at the impressive array of sandwiches and cakes, the sparkling coffee and tea urns. Then the lights went out. He was later heard muttering that he wanted to retract his tweet. That symbolic moment of darkness said it all. The briefing went into an unrecoverable tailspin straight into a black hole of irrelevance. The Indonesia fiasco wasn’t helped by the advertised ministerial speaker failing to show up, but the media has become accustomed to tourism leaders no-showing at press conferences. It begs the question: Are the media briefings being marginalised at ATF?
It is now taken for granted that ministers won’t bother to visit their parishioners on the TRAVEX floor (if they do its for a whistle-stop tour for the sake of TV cameras) let alone attend a media briefing and make a meaningful presentation on tourism policy. They were comfortably holed up in a five-star hotel at the other side of the city enjoying their huddles that are painfully out of touch with reality.
Like many of the media events and even an official party the key people, or the host, decided there were better things to do than attend even if their names had been dutifully printed in the programme. There is a tradition that dinner should not be served until the minister, or the host, arrives. They are invariably late. At the ATF farewell dinner, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism didn’t bother to turn up at all. He probably had a good excuse, but it was disappointing for the delegates who bothered to travel to the Night Safari venue.
High-ranking government officials always have good reasons for not attending, or fulfilling their duties as stated. There’s an emergency, they are called back home to meet the PM, but we all understand and read between the lines. The commercial folks, who make tourism tick, create the revenue to pay tax that keeps ministers happily enjoying a life of privilege are at the bottom of the pecking order. I have never met a government servant yet who lacked an armoury of excuses for slipping away. The hallmark of government servants and those appointed to high office is the finely tuned ability to keep us all waiting and their inability to say anything close to being meaningful or enlightening when they do decide to attend.
That was the essence of the Indonesia briefing and sadly the ministers’ conference tucked away on the last day for the duration of 30 minutes before the cocktail hour. That gave the 10 ministers just three minutes each to field a question. Hardly worth the bother?
Sadly there is a cost. Around 50 journalists from around the world were on duty. I surmise the media companies fork out THB1,000 an hour to have their journalists warm chairs at a press conferences. That doesn’t cover the cost of hosting them including roundtrip airfares and accommodation. It seems a huge waste to go to all that trouble and field the B team at presentations. We have to ask if the media hosting programme serves a useful purpose anymore ?