7:31pm 14/11/2022
Coordinates of tourism recovery: which way?
By:Lee San

While we can accept the reality that we had to go without any income for 25 months, we couldn’t have possibly accepted such sloppiness on the part of the country’s decision-makers.

Early morning on August 23, the temperature was five degrees below the freezing point. I was standing on top of Japan’s 3,776-meter Mount Fuji, yelling at the top of my voice: My travel buddies, Thank you! Right then the Goraiko (the day’s first ray of sunshine) was piercing through the clouds, as if to tell me it had heard what I said!?

Anyway, the day ahead is going to be better for sure, and we will work harder together. Won’t we?

Although scaling Mount Fuji is by no means an easy physical feat, I feel that with strong determination and resolve, we can overcome all the barriers before us, and accomplish whatsoever missions we have.

I therefore believe no matter how hostile the environment is, so long as we persist and are determined, all this would become history some day.

Coming down from Mount Fuji, the tourism industry that has been badly bruised by the coronavirus pandemic appears to have moved decisively on the road of recovery. At least we will no longer be in the zero-income community as we were in those 25 miserable months.

The thing is, we still lack those favorable factors that will give us a lift, and it seems that this industry is still confronting a fair share of human-induced obstacles, especially in the absence of truly capable and powerful leaders who will take the country forward. Isn’t is more pressing for us to pick a capable candidate rather than a party of our choice now?

You might have seen that the KLIA Aerotrain is perpetually “under maintenance” (and now they would tell you they are upgrading the facility, just give them three more years!)

Additionally, you might have also noticed that inbound tourists will need to line up for at least 60 minutes in front of the immigration counters just to realize later that the entire procedure actually takes a full 90 minutes!

Frustration has already set in before our foreign guests even step out of the airport terminal. You can imagine what kind of first impression this country is giving them.

Where is the root of all the problems? Why is no one reviewing the whole process and making amends?

I have written before about the standard operating procedures in Japan’s Narita Airport. Starting from the moment you step out of the aircraft cabin, you should have picked up your checked baggage 20 minutes later, ready to leave the airport. This is because while you are queuing up for immigration clearance, the Japanese immigration officers will start to scan your face and take your fingerprint with a portable device, so that you only need to have the data verified at the counter to complete the immigration clearance procedures, fast and efficient!

I am particularly impressed by the overall operation at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport which can be summarized in three words: dedicated, proactive and thoughtfulness.

Currently, at the first wave of a globalized revenge travel season, Thailand has already restored at least 70% of its pre-pandemic flights while new flights are being added each day. As of October 30, the number of tourists to the Land of Smiles already topped 7.56 million visitor-trips, on course to achieve the 10 million target before the year ends.

You might think such a massive influx would invariably paralyze the country’s international airports. Let me tell you the opposite is true! Immigration clearance is running very smoothly because dozens of counters have opened up at the airport, and they are all clearly marked for different categories of arriving passengers. Whenever a long crowd piles up at some of the counters, the other less busy counters will come to their rescue, so that you can retrieve your checked baggage in around 30 minutes and be ready to head for the Erawan Shrine in downtown Bangkok!

I have to stress that this is not so much about the quality of the operating system employed, but rather the ground staff’s work attitude and thoughtfulness.

Looking around this region, we cannot deny that the Thais are among the top performers in the service industry, a reputation we used to claim also some time ago! It is therefore understandable that Thailand has successfully captured the hearts of the world with its exceptional and irresistible soft culture!

Without the slightest doubt, Thailand is set to become the biggest winner in post-pandemic global tourism once again. Such a strong rebound could be attributed to the unrelenting effort of the Thai government and its tourism board.

They used to launch the highly sought-after “Sandbox” travel packages at the height of the pandemic, followed by a “SMILE” strategy to ensure sustainable development of the tourist industry, thus boosting the country’s foreign exchange earnings while creating more job opportunities for its people who will in turn enrich the national coffers with the income taxes they are going to pay.

Singapore’s travel operators are also very lucky, as the city-state’s government continued to take good care of them even during the pandemic, providing paid training for travel operators. It is now proven that the moment the country reopens its doors to foreign visitors, these people are fully prepared to start delivering top-notched quality service.

As a matter of fact, tourism promotion bodies worldwide never stopped discharging their duties during the pandemic. On the contrary, they worked even harder to promote their respective countries, generously hosting journalists to have first-hand experiences of their attractions and cultures.

Among the most outstanding performers in this respect were Taiwan’s TVA, South Korea’s KTO, Japan’s JNTO, Australia’s TA, Hong Kong’s HKTB, Macau’s MGTO, and Switzerland’s ST. Even Saudi Arabia’s STA refused to be left behind in promoting the desert kingdom’s many wonders.

Thailand, Singapore and Switzerland were among the early star performers. Unfortunately, the leaders of certain countries are still daydreaming today, or are they busily fighting among themselves for more power?

To be honest, while we can accept the reality that we had to go without any income for 25 months, we couldn’t have possibly accepted such sloppiness on the part of the country’s decision-makers.

All we need now is a clear direction from the power that be. The reality is: we have not heard any of our government people voicing up for the travel industry, no, not even one spirit-lifting slogan, let alone a clear direction to help us navigate our ways!

In short, the tourist industry should be a key industry of national importance. That’s why we have a ministry especially for this sector, along with cabinet members, secretary-general, department chief, chairman, and so on and on. That said, we still have a very long way to go before full recovery, not to mention those predictable and unpredictable setbacks, but who will come to our rescue?

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)


Lee San
Apple Vacations


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