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Open Letter

Imtiaz Muqbil address an open letter to Bill Heinecke

Author: Theodore Koumelis / Date: Tue, 06/01/2021 - 07:43
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Today, as the anti-Covid vaccinations are fast tracked, Travel & Tourism is cranking up its marketing campaigns, discounts and deals – as it always does after every crisis. That’s the easy part. The real challenge is getting the industry to walk the talk of its numerous slogans to “Build Back Better”, turn “Crisis Into An Opportunity” and forge a “New Normal.”

On the occasion of William Heinecke's letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand regarding the safe reopening of Thailand to international tourism, Imtiaz Muqbil, Executive Editor of Travel Impact Newswire and one of the longest serving travel-trade journalists in the Asia Pacific, addressed the following open letter stressing major issues of Thai tourism: 

"As always, your latest letter to the Prime Minister proved to be a popular read. Your recommendations to the PM on ways to facilitate a tourism recovery, business survival and staff welfare are all commendable. However, I would like to complement your proposals with some historical context and a more balanced, long-term perspective.

We both ventured into Travel and Tourism in its early days. Your first property, the Royal Garden Resort Pattaya opened in 1978. I began covering Thai tourism in 1981. The 1980s were a Golden Age, peaking with Visit Thailand Year 1987, a global marketing extravaganza which I chronicled in a 1988 book. In 1988, you listed Royal Garden Resorts on the Thai stock exchange.

Clearly, we both recognised the long-term potential of this great industry.

Today, as the anti-Covid vaccinations are fast tracked, Travel & Tourism is cranking up its marketing campaigns, discounts and deals – as it always does after every crisis. That’s the easy part. The real challenge is getting the industry to walk the talk of its numerous slogans to “Build Back Better”, turn “Crisis Into An Opportunity” and forge a “New Normal.”

If history is any indicator, we are not very good at learning the lessons of history. We both have seen Thailand and Thai tourism ride through many crises. In 2004, a monstrous tsunami devastated large swathes of Phuket and the Andaman Coast. Clarion calls were made to Build Back Better. Not everything went according to plan.

This July, Phuket will lead the post-Covid tourism revival drive. Like many Thai destinations, it has a split personality. It boasts a luxury yacht marina, the Laguna complex, dozens of elegant health and wellness resorts, a university, many great hotels, superb roads and a gleaming airport. But the post-tsunami, pre-Covid development was messy, like children playing in a sandbox. The population grew and natural resources came under immense pressure, from both locals and tourists. Land use patterns changed dramatically. Garbage and sewage output surged. Fresh water supply fell short.

Phuket was squeezed for every golden egg it could lay. Losing all sense of balance, the so-called “Pearl of the Andaman” simultaneously got it both right and wrong.

In future letters, you may wish to counsel the Prime Minister to rebuild Phuket as a destination which adheres uncompromisingly to the principles of People, Planet and Profits, becomes a shining practitioner of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Blueprint and the Sufficiency Economy, and reduces and/or eliminates not just plastic and food waste but crime, corruption and child-sex tourism, too.

Although it loves dispensing advice, the Thai tourism private sector is a physician which first needs to heal itself. Multiple associations with multiple agendas are all doing their own thing, also like children in a sandbox. Instead of constantly calling for government action, how about drafting a unified plan to rebuild Thai tourism better, across the board, and setting time-bound, measurable targets and indicators to implement and enforce it.

If that can be achieved, Phuket could become a leading example of post-Covid tourism recovery and revival in Thailand, ASEAN and globally.

Next year, 2022, will mark the 35th anniversary of 1987 Visit Thailand Year, which commemorated the auspicious 60th birthday of our beloved His Majesty King Rama IX the Great. He died with his dreams for an environmentally sustainable, economically stable, culturally integrated and politically mature country in tatters. During his lifetime, many tourism marketing campaigns were launched to celebrate Royal events. All were designed to drive visitor arrivals and commercial profits. It was all about the numbers. His advice on nation-building never figured.

In the post-Covid era, we have a perhaps final opportunity to heed the late King’s advice and fulfill his vision, using Travel & Tourism as a unifying glue. The new-found respect for cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene needs to be broadened well beyond virus protection to include the systems and structures of Thai travel & tourism, and Thailand at large. Both are in dire need of deep thinking, deep cleaning and deep surgery.

Finally, we will only be able to convert Crisis Into An Opportunity if we add a fourth “P” to the People-Planet-Profit equation: “P” for Peace, locally, regionally and globally..."

You can read the full letter with the relevant supporting images at Travel Impact Newswire.

Imtiaz Muqbil is the Bangkok-based executive editor of Travel Impact Newswire. Born in India, Muqbil lived for many years in the Middle East where he started his journalism career as a stringer for Newsweek magazine and McGraw-Hill World News. He moved to Bangkok in 1978 as a report/subeditor for the Bangkok Post and began covering travel & tourism in 1981, as Thailand Bureau Chief and Chief Correspondent, TTG Asia, PATA Travel News and associated publications (1981-1992).

He wrote a weekly column, “Travel Monitor”, in the Bangkok Post between July 1992 – July 2012. Imtiaz Muqbil was conferred a 1997 PATA award for his reporting on the growth and development of Asia-Pacific tourism and another PATA award for coverage of the 1994 tsunami disaster. Between 2017-20, he edited and published The Olive Tree, the first and only publication designed to help Travel & Tourism meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Theodore Koumelis

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.