How to rescue Thailand from itself

Published:  16 Jul at 6 PM
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After a week of dire media predictions concerning the near-collapse of Thailand’s tourist industry, one local English-language online newspaper is telling it like it is.

Traditionally, Thailand was the preferred option for both Western tourists and expatriates for its fascinating culture, ultra-friendly, welcoming local people, natural beauty and, crucially, for its affordability, all of which were plus points attracting huge numbers of Western tourists as well as retirees looking for an enjoyable life amidst warm weather. Over the last decade and more, the revenue from tourism has contributed a good proportion of the Land of Smiles’ GDP. Sadly, the honeymoon may now be over as reality seems to be setting in.

In a previously unheard-of development, tourist officials have stopped talking up arrivals totals and are now admitting this year’s golden goose has lost 30 per cent of visitor numbers when compared with last year’s figures. For those, both expats and locals, running tourism businesses, the news is no surprise, as they’re fully aware the rot set in a number of years ago with increasing regulations and prices as well as online media publicity regarding well-known scams and political insecurity. Nowadays, it’s not just tourist arrivals that are down, as increasing numbers of expats are leaving due to recently introduced new financial requirements for long-stay visas and the feeling they’re not welcome any more. In addition, the high baht isn’t helping.

The online media outlet published ten suggestions to address the problem before it’s too late, beginning with the need to make starting a foreign-owned business far more straightforward. Secondly, easing the regulations on long-stay visas as well as tourist visas for longer visits and ensuring the same rules are applied at all immigration offices would help those wishing to retire, and an affordable long-stay resident visa would be very welcome. The present set-up at immigration offices confuses both expats and tourists, and honest mistakes can result in wrecked lives as well as wrecked holidays.

The paper shines an unflattering spotlight on Thailand’s tourist authority, suggesting it’s partially the organisation’s fault that visitor numbers are now at an all-time low. It recommends taking on a 21st century, professional, experienced marketing team in order to compete with the highly organised international tourism world, stating emerging destinations are doing a far stronger job than TOT’s present incumbents who’re still chasing an unsustainable mix of preferred tourist nationalities and mostly ignoring the West. They’re also ignoring the potential of social media as well as underestimating the damage it can cause. Tourist safety is another relevant issue, especially regarding Thailand’s roads and tourist buses.

Other issues causing Thailand’s lack of tourists and expat exoduses are the infuriating TM30 address-reporting laws which force foreigners to report to immigration if they’ve spent even one night away from their registered addresses, whether it’s their homes, rented accommodation or hotels. An online reporting site does exist, but is often unavailable and the rule is strictly enforced. Another necessary change likely to be welcomed by expat retirees is making buying property far easier, as it’s now illegal for foreigners to own land and many expatriates don’t want to live in condo blocks. Finally, the article condemns the lack of a ‘name and shame’ system for locals scamming expats or tourists. If caught, scammers receive small fines useless as deterrents to others, and some scams can be dangerous rather than simply rip-offs.
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