PATA Chief: Thailand should invest in human capital, not tourism "hardware"
Thailand should put more importance on investing in human capital and not just in "hardware" in the tourism industry if it wants to secure its sustainable development and keep its leadership in the region in this field, said Martin Craigs, chief executive officer of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA).
It's easy to build the hardware of the tourism industry - airports and hotels, for example. But given the boom in tourism and its role as a key driver to build the economy, Thailand is facing a labour shortage. Still, this is not yet a major problem when compared with other nations in Asia, he said.
Labour shortages have become common across Asia. China is one example, where it is creating a big headache for the fast-growing tourism industry. Meanwhile in the Philippines, although it can produce more than 26,000 graduates to serve the industry annually, 90 per cent of them choose to go overseas.
Craigs said Thailand should be promoting the learning of foreign languages. The evidence is clear that there are large numbers of Russian tourists pouring into the Kingdom, but there are not enough Russian-speaking locals to take care of them.
He raised the example of Chanin Donavanik, CEO of Dusit Thani. Chanin had done a "great" job with his attempt to introduce professional graduates to the industry, and not only to run his hotel chain. This would help secure not only the industry in the long run, but also regional development.
Craigs said producing professionals for the industry was also the focus of PATA. It intends to help train people from different fields to apply their professions in the tourism industry. Under the plan, there are four classes per year, each with 36 people for a one-week training programme.
The free flow of skilled labour from the opening of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 may not solve the shortage. To the contrary, it could create new problems, as the integration of the European Union did in the beginning. So opening up the region was not a panacea, he said.
But he was confident Thailand would maintain its leadership in this field after 2015. Clearly, the country is more advanced than its rivals in hotel facilities and attracts the largest number of foreign tourists in the region.
However, what the country should do is take the responsibility to share both its good and bad experiences with all AEC members to secure sustainable growth as a whole. Having a wide gap in infrastructure development among members of the bloc was not conducive to integration.
The member states would have to work together to share benefits. In particular, the six nations of the Greater Mekong Subregion should cooperate in creating tourist attractions and activities and protect the environment at the same time, he said. The GMS was poised to become one of the world's top tourism destinations for the next generation, thanks to its unspoiled natural resources and rich cultural heritage.
To keep its role strong, it was not essential for Thailand to construct manmade projects as a new magnet to lure foreign tourists, Craigs said. In fact, the country could sell itself naturally, with both social and cultural aspects of the Thai way of Thai life, beyond the unique natural beauty seen nationwide.