Tourism Realities

Although many Thai people are interested in tourism in the country, most have an inaccurate stereotype of the major types of tourism. The stereotype is of westerners arriving en famille (or else as backpackers) and stumbling around the Land of Smiles marveling at the temples, the happy faces, the beaches and the tom yum gung. In fact, the number of tourists from Asian countries greatly exceeds those coming from the west and, economically, are much more important. Until quite recently, Chinese tourists coming here were subject to the ‘zero dollar tourism’ – which is now thankfully banned. Under such a trip, tourists paid nothing at all but their experience was to be taken from tourist trap to tourist trap while salespeople tried to make them buy things (e.g. birds’ nests and shark fins). The importance of Chinese visitors in particular is highlighted by a story today about a new direct flight from Guangzhou to Phuket, which will bring thousands of tourists direct to the island resort – away, that is, from the widely peddled view that Chinese will come as part of tourist groups on package holidays and can be palmed off with pretty much any level of (dis)service. More than ten thousand Chinese couples will visit annually to get married. There is also the increasingly well-known phenomenon of the Russian tourists, who are establishing their own areas and means of entertainment. More than 640,000 Russians stayed in hotels in Pattaya last year, which represents the largest single cohort from any country – in addition to Russian restaurants (and I suppose Russian songs in karaoke places), there is a locally-managed Russian language television station and newspaper and the number of facilities is set to grow. Whether or not all Russian tourists are principally interested in a beach-hotel type holiday is not clear but there seem to be enough who are to make them a segment of the tourism market worthy of attention. Yet few if any Thai people are learning Russian or any Slavic language – all very well but the benefits of this tourist market will leave the country, of course.