Saving face hurting Thailand’s tourism

Before the global economy decided to visit the south pole, Thailand made a conscious decision to weed out some undesirables who were lingering in Thailand on endless tourist visas. That decision was largely based on saving face. Now things have changed and the methods used are now hurting Thailand. But if Thailand was seen to go back, it would be seen as a loss of face, even if it is absolutely the right thing to do in today’s economy.

When Thailand first initiated this program, it was seen as a reaction to the capture of a high profile murderer who was a teacher in Thailand. As it turned out, the confessed murderer was actually mentally ill and obsessed with the murder, but was in no way connected. The incident generated world wide media coverage and web boards were all a buzz talking about it. There were some keen eyed professionals on the web boards who sorted out this was not the killer in the first day or two by simply reading his body language, but the media event lingered on for several weeks staining Thailand’s face. That incident happened mid 2006 before the coup.

At that time the global economy was in good shape and tourism in Thailand was on a rise. That turned out to be the peek of tourism, and has been a continuous decline since as a result of several factors. The initial results of Thailand’s new policy resulted in an exodus of people living in Thailand on a tourist visa and put an immediate dent in local economies. These people had become part of the regular economy and not the tourist economy. As a result many Thai businesses that opened to support these foreigners were forced to closed putting Thais out of work.

As time progressed Thailand made it increasingly difficult to enter Thailand on a tourist visa. There were short stay restrictions with visa on arrival entries, and it became more difficult to get visa’s at Thai consulate and embassies in Asia. This was seen as a blind butcher who when trimming fat from a steak tossed a lot of red meat in the garbage bin as well.

With the latest news reporting that Thailand’s tourism is at a 49 year low, it is clear the formula is not working.

Quoting the Bangkok Post;

July 23, 2009
The tourism industry has suffered its deepest slump in many decades with the number of visitors expected to be down 22 per cent on last year, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand chairman Kongkit Hiranyakij.

It was the biggest plunge in tourism growth in 49 years, he said.

Besides the global economic crisis, the country’s continuing political turmoil had contributed to the sharp decline in tourism, Mr Kongkit Hiranyakij said on Thursday.

The expected number of tourist arrivals had been reduced from the expected 14.1 million to 11 million, he said.

However to change the policy on the ease of getting tourist visas, and increase the length of stay would be a loss of face admitting they were wrong. So instead they just plod along until that blind butcher’s knife is against the bone tossing all the red meat into the garbage bin along with the fat.

The true mistake is not considering the variables of the economy. Nobody either Thai or foreigner would object to removing the scum and other undesirables wandering about, but the indiscriminate method now used is doing much more harm than good as desired people are being forced to depart as well. So a change must clearly be made and it must not involve loss of face. Saving face is more important, no matter what the cost.

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