If anyone with a stake in the country’s tourism industry thought that the new cabinet reshuffle might provide them with a minister able to win back traditional markets, tap into new ones, deal with the lasting impact of the eurozone crisis, position the industry for the creation of the Asean Economic Community and prepare a strategy to counter Myanmar’s growing appeal as an untapped destination, they were in for a disappointment.
Such political visionaries are rare but do exist. However they are unlikely to be attracted to a “non-core” ministry where tourism, a major earner of foreign exchange, is lumped in with sport.
If it is any consolation, the cabinet did approve several worthwhile projects during its meeting on Koh Samui this week. They included a small hospital on nearby Koh Tao and an underwater power cable for Koh Phangan to boost the power supply which should be in place by the time the island’s new airport opens.
Other projects are in the pipeline to promote tourism and develop its potential and these must be carefully thought out to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. Often they have taken the form of glossing over the more sinister side of tourism development or condoning it as the end justifying the means.
Industry observers see the biggest problem plaguing the tourism sector in recent years as uncertainty worsened by a lack of political leadership and the absence of clear direction from the top for long-term improvement.
To this must be added the questionable emphasis placed on boosting tourist numbers and revenue targets at almost any cost, even when this comes at the expense of environmental sustainability and overloads public services.