The ASEAN Community and Globalization: Their effect on Thai tourism (1)

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I was recently invited by the Professional Tourist Guide Association of Thailand, along with the Department of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand to lecture on the topic of, ?Prepare for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and Globalization: Know Thyself, Know Thine Enemy.? The purpose of the lecture was to prepare the tourism and tourist guide sectors in Thailand for the AEC and globalized world.
In this, the first of two articles, I would like to share my opinions given on that day, firstly to consider the effect of the AEC and globalization on Thai tourism, and in a second article, to discuss how to prepare tourist guides for the AEC.
Globalization and the AEC will create changes affecting Thai tourism, as follows:
1)    An increasing number of tourists
Globalization will lead to tourism expansion, and the AEC will reduce its tourist movement limitations. Examples of AEC reductions are seen in the granting of visas, where one visa is granted for entry to all ASEAN countries; in changed regulations and procedures with regard to entry permits and in adopting the same standards for inspecting immigrants in the region.
More than 600 million more people will come to Thailand, and if there is a bridge connecting Singapore and Indonesia, especially tourists from Indonesia whose population is 240 million. As Thailand is the center of the region and bordered by neighboring countries the most, there is still an opportunity for Thailand to welcome more tourists from outside the ASEAN region.

2) More competitors in tourism
However, Thailand must still compete with neighbouring countries in order to attract tourists. Especially Singapore, using  strategic attempts to develop man-made sightseeing attractions, such as Universal Studios, Garden by the Bay, Formula One events, organizing conferences, seminars, expositions and high end medical tourism, etc.
Singapore has the advantage of having regionally central air and marine transportation and it is also the centre of finance for this region. There are many international offices and international high-quality educational institutions in Singapore. Another competitor is Malaysia whose strategy is similar to Singapore's.  So a free flow of service and investment will force Thai business to compete more with international business and will also make the tourism business belong to other countries more too.
3) More connectivity of tourism in the region

Tourism in the ASEAN region has tended to become more connected, especially since the AEC's regional tourist promotion has improved communication infrastructure connecting every country in ASEAN, and also with the reduction of limits to tourist movements.  These agreements will render tourism services in ASEAN as more regional services. In the future, Thailand's tourism business will network with foreign businesses, investment or founding offices in neighbouring countries to enable complete services for tourists and for those desiring to travel in many countries more effectively.

4)  The objectives and styles of tourism will vary more
Tourists will have more varied objectives in touring across countries: whether to participate in an exposition, make a study trip, travel for business, pursue a sales offer, travel to study the market (business tourism), travel to buy goods or receive services and so on. Moreover, when communication and transportation across countries becomes more convenient and low cost, more people will traverse countries in order to receive services: whether medical services, surgery, short term study or training, further education and elderly care, and other services.

5) Personal tourism will continue to increase
    The development of Information Technology gives people worldwide more accessibility to tourist information, and social networking helps to broadcast tourist information still further. People share their travel experiences in many places, and can even view overseas maps or street pictures from the comfort of their own home too. The development of trans-national transportation routes with convenient border crossings will lead to more international public transportation services. This will increase the opportunity for personal travel, and also for trans-national travel by car and railway, as similarly experienced by people in countries in which tourism by group tour is not popular.

6) Developing routes and new sightseeing attractions
The creation of trans-national transportation routes will also create new sightseeing attractions, such as the development of the three-way Pan-Asia railway, which is a railway system between Kunming city in China and other countries in ASEAN, connecting Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. This railway will link with the railway system in Thailand, and connect with Malaysia and Singapore; in other words, with an area that will develop the economy, known as the Economic Corridor Project. The East-West Economic Corridor, North-South Economic Corridor and the Southern Economic Corridor are areas that will be developed to be new sightseeing attractions, especially on a frontier that has the strong potential to be a new transformation sightseeing attraction.

7) Developing international standards for tourism service in this region
It is important that the AEC has international standards for every section of its tourism service, through objectives that facilitate and protect foreign investors in the tourism business so that the rights of tourists and customers are also guaranteed and protected. Moreover, the AEC should facilitate the running of tourism business and give service across boundaries. For this reason, tourism business entrepreneurs must meet the cost of improving tourism services to international standards. Small businesses may therefore face obstacles to meet improved standards due to their lack of human resources, investment and business network.

We have already considered the effect of the AEC and globalization on Thai tourism. In the next article, I will share my opinion on how tourist guides should prepare themselves for globalization and the AEC in the future.

Kriengsak Chareonwongsak.
Senior Fellow at Harvard University?s Center of Business and Government.