Khun Achara Deboonme writing in The Nation last week "Thai tourism needs to up its game but Pokemon is not the answer" is right to cite tourism as crucial to Thailand’s growth. And that so much of what TAT does is excellent: 24.8M tourists last year and $1,693 spend per head is testimony to that. As is the desire to increase tourism to 30m visitors this year.
And she is right that the Pokemon Go campaign of catching 2 Pokemon characters in each of Thailand’s 24 provinces is a little gimmicky. But as with breakfast cereal collectible toys or Panini football stickers, or McDonald’s Happy Meal dinosaurs or Marvel characters, it’s a perfectly valid and fun, piece of promotional support activity.
But as Khun Achara details it’s not especially part of the Thainess campaign: there are chauffeured Pokemon-hunting trips in Berlin (somewhat negating the health benefit of walking around looking for Shellder or Caterpie), Pokemon walking tours (that’s more like it) in Croatia, and a Pokemon bus safari (for mega-couch potatos) in Memphis.
Tourists eventually reaching Thailand might well be pokemon-exhausted with the fad after all that.
And unsurprisingly in the Age of Climate Change (or the Isle of Man) more children in the Isle of Man can identify a Pikachu than a sparrow.
Thailand has more engaging and deeper levels than a videogame.
And as Khun Achara cites the 32.6M visitors to UK and $1,927 spend per head, UK clearly needs to review its visitor levels and spend in comparison to Thailand and Switzerland. And the value of Thai tourists to UK: already the 3rd highest-spenders.
And with 5M Brits holidaying in UK and a further 1M visiting Thailand each year, surely a UK-Thailand tourism partnership would maximise tourism and make both nations greater and more amazing?
France and Belgium are seeing the effects of terrorism in Paris and Nice and Brussels on the fragile tourist economy without cast-iron plans and activity. Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani speaking on the Trump foreign policy ticket expressed surprise at skittish attendees asking him if was safe to visit London.
Tourists can always go Pokemon-hunting somewhere else.
Scotland and Eire Tourism don’t need me to cite their excellent campaigns – but they could be more closely integrated with a UK-Thailand tourism partnership. Certainly Scotland is right to bemoan being left out of much of the UK’s trade and cultural activity.
While Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam all with only c.4M tourists each provide rivals to Thailand tourism – but more importantly a rich source of prosperity through cooperation. The biggest difficulty for USA and European tourists is making the effort to visit Asia a 12 hour flight and jet lag away.
But once there, then Thailand and the other ASEAN tourism authorities should be ensuring a range of viable and sustainable destinations.
One example to illustrate the point: Britain’s numerous newspapers carry regular travel agency promotions to visit say BKK, Angkor and HCM and then a week at a beach. An offer of almost no value to the hurried and harried tourists, for repeat visits to Asia. And of little value to the various Tourist Board and Finance Ministries of each nation, only briefly visited.
The permutations could include Yangon or Mandalay or Luang Prabang or Hanoi so no part of the greater Mekong region is ignored by brief tourist visits – or underpaid and undervalued.
Indeed Khun Kobkarn the dynamic Tourism and Sports minister has oft-spoken on developing the TAT Regional Strategy through the 12 Stars, Hidden Thailand and Quality Tourism to counter the issue of briefer tourist visits and lower spends.
Moves that are also complemented in the work of VisitKent and UK’s dynamic Tourism Minister Tracey Crouch from Kent’s coast, and regional institutions such as Philomena Chen and her Northern Powerhouse tourism work with say China and the UK’s National Football Museum in Manchester (previously the home for the 2012 Thai Olympic squad). And Min Rose of Nottingham University’s excellent Asia Business Centre of tourism market groups, and a part of the Boots campus.
I’d also highlight the Thai-Cambodia target of $15BN in trade by 2020 and the shared border of 798km punctuated only by landmines or petty disputes such as Preah Vihar reducing the tourism potential for both nations. Imagine Kent and Sussex squabbling over access to Canterbury Cathedral. Or the silliness of Scotland and England, or Northern Ireland and Eire reimposing Brexit borders.
SkyTV recently aired a documentary in UK on the excellent work by MAG along the Thai-Cambodia border - and potential for better roads and reforestation and national parks. The Kbal Spean Thousand Lingas carved in the riverbed are little-known and spectacular in the Cambodian jungle around Angkor. The Lingas riverbed is a hidden tourism gem to rank with the careful development of the Royal Road between Angkor and Isaan’s temples – huge potential for the Bagan of Thailand or Cambodia, if you will.
In fact, shouldn’t Khun Achara help steer a Thailand-UK Tourism Summit (Team THUK?) twice a year in say Canterbury and Ayutthaya? Both religious towns and former capitals, near the current capital, and useful retreats in the rain to draft well-considered tourism plans for both nations?
The world’s largest tourism conference is held in London every November too.
And if there’s one thing TAT could do to improve tourism for Thailand then it’s more and better activity in the main European cities such as London and Paris.
And take an active approach on tourism guides in English – for this article I browsed the latest Footprint guide to check some spellings (a guide that’s “on the ball” according to the Sunday Times) only to read that Phetchaburi is spelt Phetburi, confusing for most tourists trying to navigate Thailand’s language and maps and street signs) and that, I quote, from page 29:
“Phetburi is famous for its paid assassins who usually carry out their work from the backs of motorcycles with large-calibre pistols. Each time there is an election 15 to 20 politicians and their canvassers (so-caled hua khanen) are killed. As in Chonburi, Thailand’s other capital of crime…”
This from a tourist guide(!). Apart for it being as nonsensical as saying tourists to the East End of London should be wary of Jack the Ripper or the Krays, it hardly does much for Phetchaburi and Chonburi tourism.
I must have been lucky to escape with my life on my visits.
And Phetchaburi’s jewels of 14th century Ayutthaya art and architecture or the most southern khmer lintels or the saltpans and mangrove forest and green jade of Khao Sam Roi Yot national park and cave temple are ignored.
Phetchaburi along with Amphawa floating market is a cluster of diamonds around the ruby of Krungthep - and ripe for effective tourism management with nearby Damnoeng Saduak in danger of being destroyed by over-tourism.
Phetchburi as the City of Wats such as the hilltop palace of Khao Wang is perfect as a diamond in the rough with Amphawa to be polished with a Team Thailand-UK approach. Even the large hospital off Ratchdamnern road by the railway station is ideal for UK-NHS exchange programmes.
While stadium tours of football are a honey-pot for Thai and ASEAN tourists that UK takes for granted since we can visit 92 league grounds each Saturday and more non-league and pub grounds each Sunday.
Beyond a Pokemon flurry, Team THUK could take a leaf out of Taiwan’s dynamic tourism plan for Japanese tourists with its focus on Hello Kitty and Kawaii Culture, even a Hello Kitty 747. Japan is already kicking off the TechTokyo2020 Games with SuperMario Abe, and no doubt Doraemon part of their manga team.
And definitely more interesting than the collapse of UK politics into pussy posturing on the rates between Larry the Cat of 10 Downing St, Palmerston (shouldn’t that be Pawmerston?) the Diplomog of the Foreign Office and Gladstone of the Treasury. Felix The Cat of Huddersfield train station and Tama the Train Cat in Japan both seem less daft and worth their weight in mice. While MICE would be a key part of a proactive Team THUK strategy.
And a Team Thailand-UK (Team THUK?) no-hassle tourist simcard would be an easy win for True and EE to put in place. EE already providing a series of Wembley tours and treats. And Thai Airways and BA could coordinate their flight magazine editorials – even proving branded e-readers to save on fuel?
American Airlines has replaced its paper flight manuals for pilots with Ipads and digital documents.
The saving of 15kg per plane amounted to $12M in fuel costs saved each year.
Why not do the same for the flight magazines and safety card? It would save fuel/weight and n creasing to unlimited, the opportunities for tourism journalism and advertising too. Wouldn’t Asia Books or Bookazine or Waterstones jump at such sponsorship opportunities with Team THUK? And Bangkok Airways doesn’t need me to cite its quietly excellent flight magazine – or customer service - that effortlessly promotes Thailand.
Such activity as a minimum would see more boat trips in Amphawa and put more bums on seats in old Trafford. And more easily move the needle on Thailand’s 64.1% hotel occupancy and weakening FDI rate. And without a Pokemon in sight.
Tim Garbutt is director of Sincerity Advertising and PR launching in BKK and ASEAN, and director of Surin Village School Charity, the first school already built in Isaan. He prefers Hello Kitty to Pokemon. Doesn’t everyone?