To understand that warning, delivered to an estimated 1,000 travel industry delegates at the forum in Bangkok (see story here), one needs to appreciate who Bill Bensley is. It is no overestimation that Bill Bensley is a respected – nay, renowned – designer and architect who has worked on some of the most impressive hotels and resorts in Asia, including some in Phuket.
He knows the state of Thailand’s tourism industry, and he knows the state of play among Thailand’s tourism competitors in Asia, as he has worked in the region for decades. If he can see disaster coming, it would pay well to heed the warning.
What is dumbfounding is that there is not an all-out “environmentally conscious” branding war among hotels and resorts, and tour operators, right now in Phuket. Touting that a project is more environmentally friendly because it uses more energy efficient lighting and solar panels is a start, but no projects are promoting themselves above their counterparts with slogans the likes of “We plant mangroves” or “We don’t poison our beach water!" For the competitive advantage that can be gained from such campaigns, it beggars belief that no one is taking that line.
However, what must be recognised is that the more ethical choice tends to cost more, and that cost is always passed down to the customer in one way or another. Thailand has made itself dependent on the mass market of cheaper-spending tourists, and they spend their money where they can get value.
If these “cheaper tourists” could afford the more ethical choice in venues to stay and the tours they take, they would. Penny pinching would not enter the equation.
Yet unless there is a conscious decision to make travel to Thailand at least somewhat elitist, these are the tourists that need targetting. While such people want to travel to Thailand, some business people will cater directly to their wants, ignoring the ethical choice to increase profits. That is the nature of the beast.
This is the reality that Thailand is facing, and the survival of Thailand’s tourism industry hinges upon it. Unless there is some magical mass epiphany among local “entrepreneurs” and business people, and the tourists themselves, proactive action must be taken.
Everyone bleats the need to enforce the law in Thailand, and we’re not deceiving ourselves about that prospect happening overnight. What has worked elsewhere in the world are cash-back and tax incentives, not just growing a green conscience.
Give a greedy person the chance to make money while making the ethical choice, and he will take every time. That you can count on.