Industry expert and respected marketeer David Barrett in discussion with Andrew J Wood on recovering from the impact of the coronavirus on Thailand’s formidable travel and tourism industry.
Q1. As Thailand starts to emerge from lockdown what do you believe are the most important points to consider to ensure success?
DB: As we begin to recover, we are presented with an opportunity to reset Thailand’s tourism model and build a better future. Thailand is set up for mass tourism and if we want to see sustainable growth and development we need better control and management of destinations and resources.
We need to be targeting quick-win markets from bubble source markets close to home as the first step. A focus on high yield tourists is the way to go, in tandem with wooing back mass tourism, whilst being mindful of the need to better manage the Kingdom’s resources, protecting the environment.
Q2. When people start to think about travel again, what do you believe they are looking for in a post Covid-19 world?
DB: Biosecurity measures will be top of the list for first movers in international travel. Reassurances that their health and well-being are being taken care of. Hygiene and health measures may cause a little inconvenience compared to the free-spirited travel pre-COVID, but new measures need to be visible to reassure travellers, as safety is paramount. The first wave of travellers are most likely to take baby steps, travelling nationally this year, flying next year shorthaul within 4 hours and longhaul hopefully will rebound in volume by 2022. If you’ve broken a leg and you’re on the mend, you don’t enter a marathon. The global tourism industry has been broken and is now in recovery, we need to take little steps close to home first.
Q3. In a recent poll 75% of respondents said that the hotel industry in Thailand cannot thrive with only domestic tourism. Do you agree?
DB: We have to rely and survive on domestic tourism as this is the first market to travel. Thankfully the Royal Thai Government also sees the domestic sector as key to kickstarting the tourism economy and their stimulus package of 22.4 billion baht with subsidies and incentives to boost domestic tourism is a way to go. Tourism will continue to be a driver of growth for the Thai economy. Historically, international visitors have propelled the industry, but it is Thais’ desire to travel around Thailand that has seen the domestic tourism market grow. If you take a look at one of the niche segments — eco tourism, more than 60% of small eco tourism operators in Thailand have websites and promotional collateral only in Thai. That says something about the past success and drive to build back domestic tourism as the first-move segment. Neglect domestic tourism at your peril.
Q4. Your name is often linked with the MICE industry. With new social distancing guidelines in place for meetings in Thailand do you think the industry can bounce back in Thailand?
DB: MICE will return. However, if you cut through all the positive spin, the reality is that international MICE, that traditionally has been higher yield, will take much longer to rebound. Hopefully shorthaul MICE with Singapore as the regional corporate hub, feeding meetings to Thailand, will return by the third quarter of 2021. Longhaul markets such as Europe and the high rolling incentives from the US, that we started to see growth pre-COVID, won’t be back en mass until the latter half of 2022. It’s a waiting game. The challenge is for the DMCs who’ve banked their futures on these longhaul markets. Do they have deep enough pockets to ride through this waiting game? Many of the small DMCs have turned to retail to tide them over, but are stressed about the timeline for the return of their business.
In terms of safe distancing at business events, the industry will adapt and as confidence in international travel resumes, I am sure some of the stringent hygiene and health guidelines will be relaxed. The desire to travel and meet people is in our DNA, and I am confident MICE will resume to pre-COVID levels, but it may take 3 to 5 years.
Q5. The Thai PM is keen to engage with industry experts. What Travel and Tourism advice would you give him?
DB: Please introduce cooperation between the Ministry of Interior, who issues hotel licenses, and the Ministry of Tourism & Sports. The two ministries need to communicate and cooperate for control of Thailand’s tourism development. And ideally bring the Ministry of Natural Resources & Environment into the conversation too. We need better control and planning of tourism resources.
Q6. There is much talk about resetting the industry. What do you think our priorities should be?
DB: To reset the industry (1) Carefully introduce bilateral government agreements on travel, so we can open up key source markets, though elimination of entry restrictions. (2) A long-term masterplan for Thai tourism that is sustainable for the environment and stakeholders A plan that everyone buys into, even if there are controls that may impact business operations. (3) Continue the great work of the Tourism Authority of Thailand in promoting Thailand as the jewel in Asia. And please can we have a new campaign and drop “Amazing” which has run its course.
by Andrew J Wood