THAILAND is approaching capacity in terms of how many visitors it can handle. A rethink may be needed as the Government promotes Thailand 4.0 . . .
BANGKOK — In early July, while the world focussed on a dangerous and dramatic effort to rescue 13 young football players trapped in a flooded cave in northern Thailand, a tragedy was unfolding further south with the potential to inflict some serious economic damage on Thailand’s economy and reputation.
On July 5, two boats carrying 130 tourists capsized in stormy seas off the popular resort island of Phuket. Forty-seven tourists, all from China, perished.
While the disaster received little media attention globally, it was big news in China, where tour operators began cancelling bookings to Thailand as outraged and nervous Chinese citizens changed their minds about traveling to a country that ranked second among their preferred holiday destinations.
Tourism is an essential source of revenue for Thailand.
In 2017, it directly accounted for about 9.4 per cent of gross domestic product, or US$42.2 billion, and indirectly about 21 per cent, or US$95 billion, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Thailand welcomed over 35 million tourists last year, and more than 9.8 million of them came from China. But within a month of the ferry disaster, over 600,000 Chinese tourists had cancelled their trips to the Kingdom.
Alarm bells have begun ringing in Thailand.
Can the country’s tourism industry recover from the fallout of the Phuket boat tragedy? Is the Kingdom truly less safe than other comparable destinations in the region?
And if tourism takes a prolonged hit, how will that affect the overall economy, which has finally been showing solid growth over the last 18 months following a period of zero growth four years ago?
Kudos should be given to Tourism Minister Weekrasak Kowsurat.
Rather than issue hollow assurances that the Kingdom is a paragon of safety, he acknowledged mistakes, accepting responsibility and looking for concrete steps to take.
He urged Government agencies to begin solving a series of safety-related problems if they wanted to see the country’s reputation restored and improve.
“If we become known as a country that does not compromise on safety, it will become another plus point for us to be recognised for not being “lax” in our standards,” Weerasak said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha threw his support behind his Minister.