Skal: Is it a fun club or trade association?

CHIANG RAI, 27 February 2019: Thailand’s Skal Clubs are embroiled in a dispute after a member was expelled and lost his status as an international councillor, a role that was recognised by Skal International, headquartered in Spain.

Even in clubs that claim to promote friendship among senior travel industry professionals suffer their odd disagreements and tiffs, but no one expects disgruntled members to report club committee leaders for allegedly breaking Thailand’s Trade Association Act of 1966, or shut down a Skal-endorsed website.

Of course, it’s a storm in a teacup, stirred up when someone loses face and committees feel assured that they are immune to retaliation or threats.

In most cases they are right. Disgruntled members usually shake the sand off their shoes give the chairman a reverse victory sign and vow not to darken Skal doors ever again.

But in this particular tiff, the member lodged his complaint with the police, immigration and most recently the Department of Business Development of the Ministry of Commerce, responsible for the Trade Associations Act.

Now that opens a can of worms for Skal Clubs in Thailand, despite efforts to say they live in a space beyond the jurisdiction of trade association legislation.  They even posted a Facebook declaration confirming that since the first club was established in Thailand in 1956, none of the Skal Clubs bothered to register under the Trade Associations Act of 1966. They are beyond the law or so their legal advisors insist.

Since the Trade Associations Act was introduced more than 900 clubs and associations have successfully registered.  Today, just two travel associations remain outside the fold. Both Skal International’s six clubs and the PATA Thailand Chapter are absent from the online registrar that was last updated earlier this month.

TTR Weekly downloaded the list from the DBD website last week. It indicates that except for Skal and PATA all mainstream travel-related association in Thailand are registered including those linked to niche markets such as spas, wellness and ecotourism.

To its credit the PATA Thailand Chapter’s registration is pending and could be added to the list any time now.

That leaves the six Skal Clubs of Thailand that like the PATA Chapter have a binding affiliation with an international organisation. But in the case of Skal clubs, worldwide, the commitment involves payments to Skal International in Spain.

Leaders of Skal Clubs in Thailand are confident they are in the clear probably on the assurances of unpaid legal advisors.

They claim Skal is not a trade association by definition, comparing it to the unofficial clubbing of wine lovers or cigar smokers who spend an evening chatting about their addictions.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking that keeps Skal committees from picking up the phone and calling the Department of Business Development for a ruling.

DBD clearly states it welcomes newcomers to apply for registration and promises to take committees through the filing process to ease their concerns.

However, a reality check might come as a shock. For example, Skal International headquartered in Spain clearly identifies itself as an association for travel professionals with the goal of promoting business success. 

The mother ship is registered under Spanish law as an association for travel professionals and we have to assume that Skal Clubs around the world have the same agenda that ultimately benefits trade.

Only the DBD can answer that, but there are some hints that suggest Skal Club committees need to go back to the drawing board and rethink their game plan.

For example, associations that charge a membership fee and monthly dues may fall under the “trade” description even if the committee runs laughter sessions for a clowns’ fan club. The fact that you encourage friendship and a laugh over cocktails might not be enough to enjoy life beyond the law’s long arm if membership dues are part and parcel of club life.

In the meantime, the committees are running for cover fearing the ire of a member scorned and posting statements that might come back to bite them. A more appropriate response would be to follow the example of all the other travel associations in Thailand by calling the DBD for a definitive ruling. It’s that simple.

For more background read: