The future of Thai tourism will remain promising and highly competitive, but the country needs to invest more in rail development and improve the "smiles" now found to be fading away, says a university survey.
"Thai hospitality services are now second to none in global tourism, but the government and related parties still need to work out more incentives to entice foreign visitors, promote more comprehensive tourism packages and particularly increase Thai smiles in the service sector, as many foreign tourists now complain that those smiles have diminished and are no longer the same," said Aat Pisanwanich, director of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's Center for International Trade Studies.
Mr Aat said given the region's weakening export outlook, several Asean members apart from Thailand, particularly Singapore and Malaysia, are seriously vying to raise their tourism revenue.
He also urged the government to upgrade the language skills _ English and neighbouring languages alike _ of Thai human resources ahead of implementation of the Asean Economic Community in late 2015.
Mr Aat said in the long term, the rail network must be upgraded to serve as a link with the rail systems of Cambodia, Laos and China.
The survey showed Malaysia to be the most-visited Asean destination last year, with 25 million foreign tourists.
Thailand was second with 22.3 million visitors, followed by Singapore (15 million), Indonesia (8 million), Vietnam (6.8 million), the Philippines (4.4 million), Cambodia (3.5 million), Laos (3 million), Myanmar (600,000) and Brunei (250,000).
The number of foreign tourists visiting Malaysia will reach an estimated 36 million annually by 2020, with Thailand still second with 34.5 million.
Tourism now accounts for 9.8% of Thailand's gross domestic product or 1.1 trillion baht, with these figures expected to grow to 11.3% of GDP or 1.65 trillion in seven years.
But Mr Aat said Thailand could beat Malaysia by 2020 if it could settle its political conflicts, ensure tourists' safety, improve internet connections and promote cultural and medical tourism more strongly.
About the author
- Writer: Phusadee Arunmas
Position: Business Reporter