The elephant in the room

CHIANG RAI, 3 July 2019: I have never thought of elephants as pets, and I doubt the BBC has either when it footnotes the news with the observation “the elephant in the room.”

Usually, the anchor is referring to a Brexit hiccup and the intransigence that has blighted the UK efforts to navigate a smooth EU exit while negotiators obstinately ignore the elephant in the room.

Photo Credit; Tourism Authority of Thailand. Did anyone see the elephant in the room?

As tourism prospers across Asia we have to admit we have all seen an elephant in the room and decided to ignore it. Or as the idiom suggests we fall back on our uncanny ability to look elsewhere and miss the obvious.

And nobody thanks you either for breaking the spell. “Oh look we have an elephant in the room.”

There are some whopping elephants standing in the rooms of tourism and the standard training in public relations and communications is always a whispered; “If we ignore them they will go away.”

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They don’t of course. They stand silently waiting for the penny to drop.

Top executives from The Tourism Authority of Thailand are meeting in Udon Thani this week for their annual marketing and policy conference. It’s an impressive turnout of TAT officials according to their Facebook posts. and I couldn’t help wondering if the elephant in the room would be ignored.

Photo Credit; Tourism Authority of Thailand. The annual marketing meeting.

Quoting a guru who has studied the “elephant in the room” you have to give the beast a name and exit your comfort zone.

I am pretty sure two elephants might have been lurking around the TAT meeting in Udon Thani this week but were they ignored?

I will name one “Packy” as he represents our desire to pack as many tourists as possible into every corner of the nation.

Then there is Murky. He dawdles in a meeting room to remind us that eight months from now the smog will return once more to decimate tourism across the entire northern provinces of Thailand. That’s a sizeable elephant in the room.

Probably unacknowledged, Murky was standing in the TAT meeting as he did in a think-tank meeting called last week to evaluate and assist the promotion of international tourism to Chiang Rai.

I attended the Chiang Rai meeting and only one person saw Murky. The rest of us looked mystified. Some retorted; “haze it was only two months of the year.”

Murky knew better. Elephants never forget and they can count.  But who is counting the months we have left to find a solution that will ensure the 2020 peak tourist season doesn’t descend into disaster round two?

I am not saying the TAT executives who can now look forward to celebrating 60 years of tourism leadership in 2020, ignored the elephant in the room.

I am just saying at least two were there and despite the size of the crowd and the room, someone probably saw water glasses shudder just slightly as an elephant stomped for attention. Was he ignored?

Spread tourist to the far corners of Thailand if it helps communities to raise their standard of living, but recognise that for many provinces if the smog returns tourists will flee. The medical profession sees the elephant in the room and has measured the dreadful impact the smog inflicted on the health of North Thailand residents and the cost to the Public Health Department. When will the tourism industry dust off its Abacus counters and work out the loss?

We can argue that air pollution has nothing to do with tourism and that the elephant in the room is a preposterous figment of the imagination. But it is not going to work when thousands of businesses linked to tourism run below the red line because a smog crisis returns to haunt for the second year in a row.  

Research needs to be completed to show clearly the damage inflicted on everyone linked to tourism in North Thailand. I hazard a guess that we are talking billions lost in tax revenue alone.

Gurus who study the elephant in the room syndrome recommend we acknowledge its presence, make a plan and get to the heart of the matter through communications and join forces regardless of our commercial interest to evict it fast. The clock is ticking.

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