Nov 13, 2012

Thailand - Tourist sector unprepared for AEC shift

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Government urged to improve standards

A poll by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) found that more than half of tourism operators were not ready to deal with the Asean Economic Community (AEC).

The agency hired the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) to gather information from 400 tourism operators from Sept 30 to Oct 7.

Some 45.6% of respondents said Thailand was not prepared to deal with full liberalisation of the Asean market in 2015, while 58.4% said their businesses were modestly ready for AEC and 27.5% said they were ready.

About 52.7% were confident the AEC would create opportunities for Thai tourism, but 17.3% believed it would create problems such as high competition and a lack of a high-quality workforce.

An encouraging 47% said tourist arrivals and revenue would increase by 2015, but 14.57% said their businesses would be the same.

In Asean, Thailand is ranked first for people's friendliness and value for money. It is among the top three for natural and historical attractions, services, transport, shopping, hotels and communications. But it is fifth for safety and ninth for regulations facilitating the tourism industry.

In addition, 31.9% of respondents said they wanted the government to seriously focus on tourism site development, 27.3% on PR and promotion, and 12% on security.

Thanavath Phonvichai, vice-president for research at the UTCC's Center for Economic and Business Forecasting, said the government should upgrade services and tourism standards as well as connections.

Thailand is poor at integrating tourism-related services and is behind many countries in the region including Cambodia, he said.

Applications to many ministries are required for tourism-related investments but other countries have one-stop centres for such investments.

"If the situation continues, Thailand will lose a growth opportunity and competitiveness," Mr Thanavath said.

Pongsathorn Kessasamli, TAT's deputy governor for policy and planning, said many organisations in the government and private sectors are aware of the need to prepare for the AEC.

TAT has introduced its Thailand and Beyond strategy to deal with high competition once the AEC is launched. The strategy will promote Thailand and other countries in the region.

"We don't want to be the big brother in Asean. We want to be a must-visit destination and generate more tourism revenue," said Mr Pongsathorn.

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