At 60 is it time to set new benchmarks?

PATTAYA, 7 June 2019: Thailand’s tourism has enjoyed an impressive 60-year innings that tells an incredible story of success measured against the benchmarks of arrivals and revenue.

As the Tourism Authority of Thailand approaches its 60th anniversary in 2020, achieving success over the next 60 years will depend on how officials adopt different benchmarks to measure progress.

No one is downplaying the amazing story that is illustrated in the history of Thailand’s tourism so clearly narrated by travel journalist and author Imtiaz Muqbil, who has gathered volumes of historical data and documents on the country’s tourism journey.

On the opening day of the TTM, he presented just a few insightful glimpses of a story that saw tourism grow from a few hundred thousand in the 1960s to possibly 41 million by the close of this year.

TTM itself presents a facet of that amazing journey having drawn international buyers to Thailand for more than 20 years. It’s a success story in itself brings the international travel buyers to Thailand’s shores to meet with emerging destinations and travel content suppliers. Many of them lack the financial clout to attend mega-shows such as ITB Asia and World Travel Market.

As the TAT governor told TTM delegates ar the opening of the show in Pattaya, Wednesday: “We begin the countdown to celebrating the 60th anniversary of TAT in 2020 and it would be fair to say that the Thai tourism industry is on the cusp of a new era.”

His choice of words is interesting. The new era will need to be built with new tools and different benchmarks than those that have measured the TAT’s success so far.

As both the Ministry of Tourism and Sports and the TAT have often said counting footfall through the turnstiles of the country’s immigration counters is no longer a yardstick to measure a story of success.

Been there done that. Now Thailand has to adopt a different set of milestones if the success story has a sequel with a start date 2020.

A popular quote credited probably incorrectly to Mark Twain says ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’

To stay competitive, Thailand’s tourism will have to rhyme with the global demand for sustainable tourism that’s for sure. It should be a core benchmark in the story going forward.

Not a greenwash which is the easy way out, but the credible standards and certification that recognise the players who are willing to invest in a journey. Yes, it is more expensive and time-consuming but the sustainable business model is a better fit with the environment.

The message of quality tourism is narrated with passion by tourism officials who haven’t quite got round to working out how that message plays out in real life.

For example, Thailand may have to revisit its hotel star programme and raise the standard of scrutiny that leads to star ratings to secure quality. It should include sustainable tourism principles, caring for the environment and most of all caring for the people who work in the hotel and community.

The quickest way to improve quality is to ensure you look after your hotel staff, that you comply with labour laws and give your staff the service charge without deductions. Hotels are largely run by penny-pinching financial controllers who tick the boxes on cost-saving at the expense of the customer and the people who work for them.  

How Thailand is seen and perceived globally in the competitive ranking, happiness factor, the rule of law and political stability will measure success more accurately than dollars spent. These are no longer subjects that can be swept under the sofa.  To continue its success story Thailand must endeavour to rise up the global charts that measure perceptions on a much wider tapestry than just tourism.

Then there is security and the safety of travellers who visit these shores. Firstly, the conversation has to turn to how we make Thailand safer for citizens whether they travel or not. Citizens deserve a government that can provide security and deliver safety across all travel modes road, sea and air.

These are just some of the benchmarks that will inevitably measure Thailand’s success story from here on. There are more, but the need for a caring society and one that values guests ahead of their wallets counts. Smile monitoring rather than footfall is crucial if Thailand’s success story is to enjoy a positive sequel after the 2020 anniversary celebrations. The new yardsticks are broader than just numbers and revenue. Contrary to what the industry might think, consumers identify them and they are voiced clearly on social media. To ignore them could put Thailand’s success story going forward at risk.