Ailing sector pushing for safety law
The tourism sector is proposing the Tourists Safety Act to cope with a crisis in confidence and encourage diversification as the impact of Covid-19 has taught a bitter lesson about depending on a single source.
The pandemic set off a warning in the tourism industry to care more about hygiene and safety standards. This act stipulates regulations and guidelines for tourism services and activities such as diving and ziplines, which have caused fatal accidents, said Surawat Akaraworamat, vice-president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (Atta).
The act will help control the quality of the few illegal operators that damage the reputation of Thai tourism, said Mr Surawat.
"The Thai Industrial Standards Institute certifies the product quality or standards for consumer goods," he said.
"It's time for the tourism industry to have a concrete standard to ensure tourists will receive reliable products or services."
Tour operators should also depend more on markets that are recovering faster, such as domestic travellers and Southeast Asia, said Vichit Prakobgosol, president of Atta.
"Most Thai tour agents are accustomed to luring Chinese, but to avoid paralysis during a crisis, it's necessary to think about diversification," said Mr Vichit.
He acknowledged normally operators focus on a specific market in which they already have connections rather than creating a diverse marketing mix.
As a result, China is the biggest source for Thai tourism with their arrivals as high as 11 million last year, accounting for 28% of the 39.8 million international arrivals.
Chamnan Srisawat, president of the Thai Federation of Provincial Tourist Associations, said the format of tourism services will change to smaller groups to comply with social distancing practises as people are looking for preventive measures against possible infection.
He said this crisis serves as an opportunity for operators to practise responsible tourism, such as focusing on less crowded, second-tier provinces and local communities as people seek natural experiences after a long isolation period.
For example, a package in Krabi sees small groups of tourists ride a longtail boat to release fish into the sea, visit local communities and take a road trip to nearby provinces.
The domestic market, which should return to travel first, should be the priority target for tour operators, said Mr Chamnan.
Douglas Martell, Onyx Hospitality Group's president and chief executive, said the virus is leading to a major change in travel behaviour and caused the company to adjust its business plans.
The hospitality business is likely to come up with new ways of enhancing hygiene and revising room-cleaning procedures, as well as offering more flexible plans relying on technology such as high-definition virtual tours of properties, he said.
"Technology will take over, not replacing travel but complementing and enhancing the guest experience even further," Mr Martell said.
"Technology will not replace humans, but amplify that human touch."
Onyx has temporarily suspended its operations in Southeast Asia.
But hotel operations in China are resuming after the viral outbreak on the mainland has declined.
He said the company is adapting practices from China and aims to apply them throughout the region once the situation improves.
"We have initiated recovery plans for the China market as sentiment improves," said Mr Martell.
The outbreak has taught hoteliers to offer online delivery services to sell food and beverages, which should continue, said Samphan Panpat, honorary adviser to the Thai Hotels Association.
Some hotels are without guests, but have opened kitchens for takeaway orders to keep workers employed.