Speaking at a conference focusing on zero dollars tourism, last week, ATTA Vice President Somchai Chomraka said the association agreed with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports’ policy, but asked for more clarity on regulations.
ATTA claims that only a few of its members are guilty of organising tours that could be defined as zero-dollar tourism, but many of its members benefit from the free use of buses and commuter vans owned by gem stores and have reaped handsome profits from shopping commissions in the past.
The practice has been rife for decades across all tourist markets, not just Chinese tour groups. It originated in the 1970s when European inbound travel agencies extracted massive commissions from shops, restaurants, attractions and boat companies. Gems stores provided transport on condition the groups visited their shops during sightseeing trips. Tour leaders, guides and even company directors benefited from golden handshakes, gifts including gold and cars and annual cash bonuses based on the sales volume generated by their clients in partner shops.
“Although the so-called zero-dollar tour has impacted on the country’s tourism for decades, “ the ATTA vice president said, “tour operators, airlines, hotels and related tourism operators are asking for more clarity on the crackdown and the regulations…what are they? “We need to know how tour operators should conduct themselves so they do not violate the law?”
He added: “We also require more time to adjust our business plans and marketing strategies to run business and protect a potential loss of business.”
ATTA secretary, Adith Chairattananon, said the ministry crackdown would cause a decline of 50% to 70% in travellers using tour operators this month.
This suggests the problem of zero-dollar or commission tours is far more widespread than even the government imagined. A drop of 50% to 70% in tourists using travel agencies would represent a loss of 150,000 travellers a month.
He warned there would be flight cancellations from Chinese airlines like Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines of around 20% to 30% this month. Plans to open services from secondary cities such as Wuhan, Changsha and Shantou to Thailand would be cancelled as bookings declined.
Meanwhile, hotel booking cancellation, particularly in Bangkok and Pattaya focusing on Chinese tour groups, would decline by 50% this month.
“The state should discuss and brainstorm with the private sector to reach an agreement on the clampdown policy…concrete official guidelines should be provided to tourism operators so they know how to conduct their business with partners,” the ATTA secretary claimed.
He stressed: “We agree with the crackdown, but need more time and an opportunity to take action and adjust strategy following the state policy.”
The fallacy is that Ministry of Tourism and Sports believes the commissions game only applies to the Chinese market. It is convenient to blame Chinese companies for all the tourism ills that blight Thailand’s tourism, but a full investigation would show the same principles also apply in other markets that involve travel companies.
Even in its mildest form, commission driven shop visits raise the cost of shopping for consumers by at least 30%.
Last year, ATTA identified three requirements for members handling tours from China to adopt in order to improve market quality.
They were: Do not abandon travellers on a tour to third parties; a Thai tour guide must be on the tour bus at all times; and ensure there are no threats or attempts to force tourists to buy products.
There are 350 ATTA members handling Chinese tourists.
In 2015, ATTA agents handled 3,033,950 Chinese travellers up 125.42% from 1,345,898 visits in 2014.
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