Smart cities option to deal with glut

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Last year Thailand saw 7.5% year-on-year growth in international arrivals. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Thailand risks being overwhelmed by tourism within the next decade as the “Thailand Towards 2030: Future of Travel & Tourism” report indicated the capacity of airports and the transport system have not caught up with the pace of tourism growth.

The report, a collaboration between Amadeus, the Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) and the Pacific Asia Travel Association, also suggests four urgent improvements and proposes smart cities as a solution.

The World Travel & Tourism Council reported Thailand’s tourism grew by 6% last year, far above the global average of 3.6%.

Last year the country reported 7.5% year-on-year growth in international arrivals to 38.3 million, causing congestion at major destinations such as Bangkok and Phuket, which are the top two provinces earning the most tourism revenue, 1 trillion baht and 470 billion, respectively.

Simon Akeroyd, vice-president of corporate strategy and business development at Amadeus, said Thailand needs to increase airport capacity, improve air-to-city links, scale up public-private partnerships to improve the efficiency of inner-city transport networks, and reduce “over-tourism” by adopting smart technologies as soon as possible.

“Collaboration between public and private sectors is the key to success of every smart city in the world, such as Singapore, Dubai and London. The government should take the lead in drawing up a structure and come up with a support plan. For the projects to run efficiently, private parties and communities should have a stake in implementing them,” said Mr Akeroyd.

Pracha Asawateera, vice-president of the southern district for Depa, said Thailand commenced the Smart City project over four years ago.

Phuket, one of the seven pilot areas, received an initial budget of around 400 million baht and can kick-start the city data platform under the umbrella of City Development Companies, using information technology to improve the capacity and capability of tourism in the city.

“Management is an urgent need for Phuket, as we’ve experienced congestion in the city centre since last year,” said Mr Pracha.

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“The city is almost at the stage of over-tourism, while Bangkok shares the same fate.”

According to Amadeus executives, even with the headwind of a downturn in the global tourism business, visitor growth in Thailand will not dip below 7.5% for another 5-10 years.

The government must prepare smart infrastructure such as facilitating check-in and immigration processes within airports, introducing more self-serve check-in kiosks, automated bag drops and the use of biometrics for passenger identification.

Better management of air-to-city links is also needed to accelerate the growth of the Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) sector, which accounted for 8 million visitors in the second quarter this year.

On-site check-in to airlines in conference halls or sports stadiums when Thailand hosts international events can help reduce traffic at airports.

Amadeus and Depa will also encourage the smart usage of accurate data, with Amadeus sharing travel patterns of tourists by tracking booking behaviour.

Depa will use the data gathered from free WiFi hotspots in the city to help plan tourism promotions.

Eventually efforts to open up tourism in second-tier cities will bear fruit with the help of this kind of data, said Mr Pracha.

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