The Jack Report: Are Days Numbered For The Thai Tourist Industry?

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Albert Jack


The Thai Tourist industry has started a campaign to lure back Chinese tourists.

Chiang Mai has started a campaign to try and lure back Chinese tourists, whose visits have fallen significantly lately. The drop in visitor numbers is thought to be related to the Thais’ constant criticism of the Chinese on social media, causing them to boycott Thailand.

And this is something like the reason the Americans stopped coming here in numbers a few years ago. And the British, Australians & Europeans. The attitude of the Thai authorities and, in some cases the population, towards their guests is driving people away.

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The fifteen-year prosperity, thanks to the wealth Westerners brought in by the billion that looked, only a few years ago, as if it would never end, may well be ending.

Take a look at tourism over the last forty-years and a pattern emerges.

In the 1970’s the early package tours took wealth and prosperity to Spain’s, previously undeveloped, Costa del Sol region. The Coast of the Sun was cheap, easy to reach, beautiful, unspoiled and safe. The Spanish welcomed new customers to their bars, taverns, hotels & beaches by the million.

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And, of course, the crooks moved in too. The pickpockets, the muggers, the taxi driver scams, the water-ski scammers (you damaged my ski, that’s $50, gracias). Waiters watered down wine, shops short-changed. Every non Spaniard was an opportunity and the Spanish police were bought and paid for. In on it – up to the nail-bag.

So were the authorities. Ugly hotels went up, the beautiful shoreline was ruined, the seawater polluted, condos were bought and never built. Now-famous time share scams were established. Golf club memberships were sold, to courses that would never be played. Nightmares were had and tears flowed. Greed flourished and wealth changed hands.

Then the foreign crooks all moved in and gun-fights were common. Taxi drivers cheated, robbed and raped. And the tourists were all chased out of town. People just stopped going there.

First the Americans left. Then the British and other Europeans. The Japanese, so affluent during the 1970’s & 80’s, stopped going. The Russians had a brief look around, after their borders opened in the 1990’s, but it was too late for Spain by then.

There was no way to change the attitudes of the people by that time. A whole generation had grown up thinking tourists in numbers had always been there, and always would be. But the Russians also found somewhere else to go before long. Spain then spent the next twenty-years with its collective arms out saying, ‘where you go, please come back handsome man.’

But no-one goes back there now. Not in any numbers anyway. Spain is broke. The money is gone. Buildings lay derelict and a decent condo can now be picked up from a bank for the price of a medium sized car.

And it serves them right.

Spain was onto a good thing in the 1980’s. And they thought it would last forever. But people who are abused, everywhere they go in a country, just stop going there.

The tourist dollar went to Greece instead during the 1990’s and exactly the same thing happen there too. Now their elderly scavenge for food in street bins and you can buy a decent apartment in Athens for pocket change. But, who would?

The gravy train pulled into Turkey next, for a brief while, until the same thing happened there and tourists were chased away by robbing, thieving locals who thought they knew a good thing when it walked past them at night.

Who, in their right minds, would go on holiday to Turkey now?

Fifteen years ago (or something) the same gravy train left western stations and pulled into Thailand. Is any of this sounding familiar yet?

It doesn’t take long for the so called quality tourist to be driven out of town. Parts of Thailand today mirror the Costa Del Sol during the 1980’s. And I don’t just mean the once beautiful coastline through Naklua and Wongamat that is so badly scarred by high-rise chicken boxes. And nor do I just mean the polluted seawater, thanks to cheap drainage.

It is every baht bus driver who pulled away without giving change. It is every chicken vendor who charged the white man more than he saw the person before him pay. It is every gold stealing ladyboy in the dead of night and every traffic ticket that is issued unfairly.

It is every motorbike taxi driver who beat up a drunk tourist instead of helping him home and every bar worker who added tabs to a bin. It is every tour guide who refused to help a stranded tourist because ‘he didn’t pay for a tour guide, why should we help him? Next time he come he pay for tour guide. He learn his lesson and more money for us.’

I will tell you why, my lovely. Because he isn’t coming back. There is no next time. The next time his (or anybody he knows) cruise ship docks in Laem Chabang Port him and his wife will stay on board, in the casino, and not come to Pattaya or Bangkok. The next stop for them is Saigon.

Because you think he ‘learn his lesson’ sitting, sweating like a farmer, outside Mike’s Mall having missed his bus. And you won’t take him back to the ship on your half-empty, air-conditioned, tour bus because ‘he no pay for guide.’

He learned his lesson alright. ‘He no come back’ – ever. That is why you should have given him a lift, and been nice.

And multiply that example by tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions of times over the few short years the gravy train has been coming to Thailand.

It is every single thing, big or small. Because every time anything like this happens someone goes home and tells all of their friends, on Facebook, ‘don’t go there, go somewhere else instead.’

Now, obviously I don’t mean everybody in Thailand is mistreating their guests. I don’t even imply it is anybody outside the tourist centres. It is not that many inside towns like Pattaya & Phuket either. But it is enough. The small minority that are causing people to go home with a bad experience. Just as it was in Spain, Greece and Turkey.

And imagine those bad experiences being shared many hundreds of thousands of times by modern social media users in all corners of the world over the last five years. As it is in China, right now.

The people seem unaware of any of this. Chiang Mai deputy governor Mongkol Suksai tried to calm feelings down in the province when he said yesterday ‘it is just a significant difference between cultures which, on many occasions, we Thais are not accustomed to. That is why it is vital that we make them understand how Thai people are. It is our job to show them what is acceptable, and more importantly, what is inappropriate in Thai culture.’

I am afraid not, Mr Governor. You couldn’t be more wrong than that. It is an Olympic gold medal effort in being wrong.

The Chinese tourists are the level you are at right now, in terms of visitor. They are the customer. They bring the money. This is what you are left to work with.

Europe, America, Australia and Russia have all been chased out of town, to Vietnam perhaps. Hurried over the border. You are where you are now. It is you who must adapt your service to suit the Chinese. If you want them to keep coming.

Because if you don’t then your tour guides, who have all been learning Manderin over the last twelve months, had better start learning Arabic, Hindi and Urdu instead.

And it will serve them right too. Because that is what is coming next.

Just ask the Spanish, the Greeks or the Turks.

Story by Albert Jack

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