For the Thai government, the tourist dollar is worth a lot to them. So much so that they give the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) a budget worth billions of baht in order to promote Thailand. I often wonder where the money goes and whether they spend it wisely. I know that they spend millions on television advertising on channels like CNN and BBC. They also have full page spreads in magazines like Time. I sometimes hear about millions being spent on press junkets. What they do is invite foreign press on private tours of Thailand. But, I wonder how affective all of this advertising and promotion is worth to the country? Are they going about it the wrong way?
Thailand has been going through some rough patches lately. The SARS outbreak, Bird Flu, the Tsunami, violence in the south, bombings in Bangkok, a military junta and political upheaval, and of course the recent gunning down of the Russian tourists in Pattaya. It also doesn’t help that international news organizations like the BBC start their reports like this: “Bangkok is a notorious destination for sex tourism. But the lives of many of the city’s sex workers are full of danger, disease and the urgent need to send money home.” And how about these headlines that are going around the world at the moment: “Thailand’s Junta Warn Of Terror Attacks In Bangkok”. Does this make it sound like that Thailand is a safe destination for families? The TAT have recently been given a budget of 60 million baht in order to promote the upcoming Bangkok Film Festival. Personally, I think that they should be spending their money more wisely. What is desperately needed at the moment is some damage control. The message needs to get out there that yes, Thailand has problems, but no more than most countries. Thailand is still as safe to travel as it was five years ago.
In the Bangkok Post the other day there was a story that the TAT office in Khon Kaen were recruiting foreigners married to Thai people in their quest to promote the region. The plan was to send them on a cultural tour of the region. I thought that was such a great idea. Who better to promote Thailand than foreigners who have a love of the people and the culture. These foreigners have family and friends back home that would certainly be interested to see what was on offer in the region. Maybe some of them even make websites or write blogs. After all, word of mouth and personal recommendations are worth far more than million baht advertisements. Instead of paying millions to pamper foreign journalists who may or may not write an article that will only be seen for one day in a newspaper, the Khon Kaen TAT office were going to entertain people who already had a love of the country. For sure these expats would do their bit to help promote Thailand. But, then I read the same story in The Nation. “Each couple will be charged 1,101 baht to go on the trip and translators will be on hand to help the foreigners.” What? You are kidding me? You are going to charge them to do your job? What about the free press tours you give?
Actually, this doesn’t surprise me at all. The people on the board of TAT are old school. They believe in print journalism and television. They have probably never used the Internet in their life. Take a look at their official websites. Their lack of updates are embarrassing. They just don’t believe that the Internet is worth their trouble. After all, who uses the Internet to plan their holidays these days? Are they joking? Just take a look at the Paknam Web Network which Thai-Blogs.com is a part of. Our mandate is to promote the real Thailand to the world. We have been doing this for ten years. On an average day the network gets over 80,000 unique visitors from 120 countries from around the world. We have written to the TAT a number of times asking them to help us by sending us information. For example, tourist destinations and festival dates. They are just not interested. They just don’t take the Internet seriously. Wake up! We are not asking you for any money. We are fully prepared to continue promoting Thailand for free. Please take us seriously and give us your full support. Together, the Paknam Web Network and the thousands of other people and websites like us, can make a real difference. You just have to be brave enough to take that first step. We are waiting for your call.