No more paradises lost
With a plan to promote "secondary" tourist provinces, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has injected a huge portion of its budget to help them upgrade and keep domestic and international visitors satisfied this year.
TAT governor Yutthasak Supasorn told the media this week each province will get 50 million baht for a total of 2.7 billion baht of its 3.2-billion-baht budget for promotional activities.
Another 410 million baht will be used to fund campaign activities year-round.
The goal is to "polish" those 55 provinces so they draw more tourists. The are ranked as secondary if they receive fewer than 3.5 million tourists a year.
The list includes Lampang, Udon Thani, Lop Buri, Chai Nat, Ratchaburi, Trat, Yala and Narathiwat.
They have been relatively overlooked by domestic and foreign tourists but the agency hopes to capitalise on Thailand's popularity to make them more lucrative.
Major provinces such as Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Surat Thani, Chon Buri are excluded from the scheme.
The budget allocated to these provinces shows a reinforced effort to promote them after the introduction of a tourism tax rebate which the TAT forecasts would draw more than 10 million Thai tourists this year.
This scheme enables travellers in the 55 designated provinces to save their receipts from money spent on accommodation, travel and food so they can claim a tax deduction of up to 15,000 baht.
Between 37.2 million and 37.9 million foreign tourists are expected to visit the country this year, according to projections by the Tourism Council of Thailand.
The TAT is correct in paying more attention to these secondary provinces.
However, it raises a question about planning -- or lack thereof -- and how the money can be best used to maximise results.
There are also concerns the budget could be misused to develop local infrastructural projects.
According to the governor, the allocated money is aimed at improving fundamentals and sharpening the skills of those in the tourism industry in each of the targeted provinces. He said it can be used for campaigns and that each province may hire people to help organise these.
The governor ruled out fears of budget misuse and redundancy. But the old saying "easier said than done" would seem appropriate here.
Not to mention the TAT's apparent focus on quantity over quality.
In principle, it would be better if each province were to study its own needs first and design development activities accordingly. This lowers the risk of lavish expenditure on meaningless activities that gain locals nothing.
The TAT should also encourage local people in these targeted areas to be aware of the adverse effects of tourism, in particular that of over-capacity, and work out preventive measures.
All 55 provinces should be aware of their respective advantages, including their cultural identity and the importance of preserving that which tourists find interesting and charming.
It should be wary of rapid degradation as a result of unplanned development while locals struggle to cash in on the tourism boom.
On top of that, people involved in the tourism industry in these secondary provinces should be encouraged to embrace the concept of sustainable tourism.
Previously, Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat expressed concern over waning tourist attractions. These need a shot in the arm to be rejuvenated.
But even that is not enough.
The minister must do more to ensure that both the TAT and his subordinates act more efficiently as facilitators and arrange for tourist operators to learn lessons from one another's experience.
This would help stave off the threat of seeing more parts of Thailand turn into spoiled paradises.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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