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Making tourism better for the future

Mr Weerasak says it’s time to rethink tourism. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

The timetable for the general election in February is set, and if voting takes place, the existing government will have a short period of time to complete its agenda.

This includes Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat, who needs to speed up plans to meet his ambitious goal to transform the tourism industry’s quality standards and raise responsibility.

Mr Weerasak, who came into office in November 2017, has long encouraged tourism operators to change, placing a higher focus on quality tourism and safe destinations, rather than focusing on huge arrival numbers.

He reasons that the sector has not seen a change over six decades because stakeholders in the business have concentrated only on marketing and promotions instead of managing quality tourism.

“This is the time to rethink tourism,” Mr Weerasak said. “Thailand should not take in an overload of foreign tourists. Instead, we should shift our focus to quality tourists who behave responsibly.”

His proposal aims to reduce crises and protect the country’s resources. He wants to avoid over-tourism in major destinations. If the sector changes, tourism in Thailand will be positioned as a quality leisure destination on the global map.

Thailand welcomed some 35 million foreign tourists in 2017, bringing in 1.8 trillion baht in revenue. The tourism industry has played a significant role over the past several years in driving the economy, creating jobs and distributing income to locals. Including domestic tourism, the sector generated as much as 2.76 trillion baht, representing about 20% of GDP in 2017.

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While revenue is huge and growing every year, authorities see tourism as an easy way to bring in foreign income, but they may not realise that it comes at the cost of nature and this would damage tourism in the long run.

In order to create higher-quality tourism, Mr Weerasak suggests that the public and private sectors collaborate to diversify their marketing strategy from traditional forms to penetrate emerging markets and seek new tourist segments.

High-potential markets are considered to be tourists from Eastern Europe, South Asia and neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The number of Chinese tourists plunged in the past few months, but there are still many more wealthy individuals wanting to travel abroad, a trend Thailand can capitalise on.

Apart from seeking new markets, the industry should offer tourists impressive experiences and more value. The country can offer a greater variety of activities such as sports tourism, medical and wellness, local experiences and long stays.

At the same time, stakeholders should avoid price wars. If they focus on numbers rather than quality, they will not be able to move away from the price trap, Mr Weerasak said.

To deal with high-quality and responsible tourists, the public and private can promote secondary cities to their customers, he said. There are more than 8,000 communities across the country that can provide holiday experiences for foreign tourists.

The mission might not bear fruit within the time he has left in his position, but the efforts are worth starting to be continued by his successors, the minister said.