(TVLW) – Visitor safety is one of the most serious challenges facing the Thai tourism industry, said Apichart Sankary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents. Statistics show that around half of all visitors are repeat travellers, a fact that points to the country’s attractiveness as a tourist destination.
Mr Apichart noted that the parties campaigning for the Dec 23 election focused largely on boosting tourism through marketing and developing new tourism spots, while ignoring ways to improve safety.
”In my opinion, safety is the biggest concern for the private sector because safety is the most significant reason for visitors making their decision to travel,” Mr Apichart said.
He said that when it came to attracting quality visitors, it was critical that the services meet quality expectations.
Mr Apichart added that he hoped that authorities take a more serious, co-ordinated approach to tourism policy, particularly in crisis management.
The Surayud Chulanont government in 2007 set up a crisis management centre with a budget of 10 million baht. But operators say the centre’s mandate remained uncertain.
”So far the centre has yet to genuinely operate as each state agency continues to lack unity in solving problems and sometimes that just worsens the damage to the industry,” Mr Apichart said.
He said the crisis centre should include not just tourism authorities, but also representatives of the Foreign, Defence and Interior ministries; and the police and private sector. It should be tasked with gathering market intelligence as well to support long-term development objectives.
Mr Apichart said development strategies were now ill-considered and lacked cohesion.
Programmes by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, for instance, to develop new markets often met with problems due to the lack of inbound flights.
”Market access strategies need to go together with logistics planning. There’s no point promoting Thailand as a destination in a given market if there aren’t flights and infrastructure available as well,” Mr Apichart said.
Other bureaucratic obstacles include work permit problems faced by foreign tour operators. There have also been complaints about immigration procedures, the lack of an online visa application system and ageing, inadequate infrastructure.
He said there was concern over the emergence of Vietnam, but in he believed that Vietnam would take at least 10 years to develop. However, without any improvement in Thailand, Vietnam would become a strong competitor because of flexible government policy. The construction of a high-speed train between Vietnam’s north and south was cited as an important example.
Vichit Na-Ranong, the honorary chairman of the Tourism Council of Thailand, agreed that every administration understood the industry’s problems but lacked the commitment to solve them.
The industry needed a government with commitment to the sector, including clear deadlines and benchmarks, he said.
He identified the industry’s problems as safety, pollution, market access, poor infrastructure, lack of budget, lack of tourism products and low skills.