Generals don't know tourism
The disastrous effects of Covid-19 on Thailand's tourism call for a shake-up in the industry and associated policy support from the government and parliament. The Senate also wants to contribute to a tourism revival, but the formal appointment on Thursday of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's younger brother to sit on its tourism committee is likely only to have further pushed the public's confidence in it to the edge of the abyss.
The appointment of Gen Preecha, a former defence permanent secretary, caused a stir overnight, not just because the 19-member panel is already dominated by 11 generals and two former senior police officers, but also because Gen Preecha does not seem to have much expertise to offer beyond his knack for skipping work when he served on the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly (NLA), which was dissolved last year. As a highly paid NLA member, he showed up for just six out of a total of 400 meetings.
Since being chosen by his brother, who was then head of the junta, as a senator, he has not done much public work apart from his vote for his brother to be the prime minister. The same could be said for the entire Senate.
Chaired by Gen Thanasak Patimaprakorn, a deputy premier under the former coup-installed government, the tourism committee has drawn much flak because none of the generals has credentials in tourism. The fact is that the panel bears more of a resemblance to a national security committee than anything else.
Gen Boontham Oris, deputy secretary-general of the committee, yesterday claimed that all of the generals are competent and have relevant experience to offer. The committee will monitor and scrutinise the government's work as well as propose recommendations on how to make tourism more resilient while the country is still under the cloud of the pandemic, he said.
Of course, the tourism industry will need a rescue package and policy support from the government and parliament. It has been the sector hardest hit by the outbreak and normally contributes about 20% to the nation's GDP. Last year the country earned 1.96 trillion baht from its 39.8 million visitors.
The outbreak has brought the industry to a standstill, shutting down many hotels and tour operators and resulting in massive job losses. Even before the outbreak, the industry was already overly reliant on Chinese tourism, with businesses and government policies catering specifically to their needs. Last year, around 11 million Chinese visited Thailand, bringing with them spending worth 544 billion baht.
The pandemic has exposed the pitfalls of the Thai tourism industry's reliance on Chinese tourists, particular after China banned outbound tour groups to stem the spread of the virus early this year. Observers believe China will not reopen those floodgates anytime soon.
Reviving Thailand's tourism industry during the ongoing circumstances and then in the post-Covid-19 era would be extremely challenging even for policymakers or senators with backgrounds in the industry.
But what expertise or insight into the tourism sector do these 12 generals have to offer? The public has yet to hear any tangible "recommendations" from them.
This committee, along with most of the senators themselves, the majority of whom were appointed by the former regime, is unlikely to make any meaningful contributions to the country. Most people have accepted that, but what they didn't expect was the appointment of a general notorious for his absenteeism to a team responsible for such a key sector. It's a decision only likely to add to the despair of an already ailing industry.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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