To a sold out gathering of travel and tourism professionals SKÅL INTERNATIONAL BANGKOK reconvened after a four month hiatus, with a networking lunch and panel discussion on “Restarting Tourism” at the Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel.
Commenting on the meeting, club President Andrew J Wood said, “With 51 days and no new local COVID-19 infections in Thailand, and regrettably the closed borders and few flights allowed in and out of the country, we took the decision to have our first in-person physical meeting. With little evidence that the virus is still active in Thailand we did however take special precautions to restrict access to only registered and contactable members and guests and to record all attendees and have thermal imaging temperature scans on arrival and special seating and table layouts plus higher than standard hygiene protocols in place and protection for all staff of the hotel wearing masks, shields and gloves.
“The Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel did an excellent job keeping us all safe for our first physical meeting after lock down. We felt safe, protected and confident of a well managed hotel. There are no guarantees in life but feeling safe is very much part of travel today, even if its just travelling out of your house.
“We were able to welcome everyone back to the first in-person lunch post-Covid and to talk about the challenges of restarting tourism in Thailand. Thank you to Jerome Stubert GM for all the great arrangements and to our panellists, sponsors and all our members and guests for attending,” the Skål Bangkok Club President said.
The lunch commenced with a short presentation by Kingsmen Hospitality Service on Good Hygiene training program by COO Claus Enghave and MD Prem Singh.
In his article, Travel Weekly Asia journalist Vincent Vichit-Vadakan reported, “ A sign of easing concerns about physical distancing in Thailand, the Bangkok Club of Skål International hosted its first post-lockdown networking and panel discussion to examine an issue that is on everyone’s mind: restarting tourism.
“This time however, hard-hitting questions from moderator and industry veteran David Barrett steered the panelists away from clichés. Barrett pushed his guests to address wide-ranging questions like rate-dumping, threats to sustainability, the return of mass tourism, domestic market potential, and the role of technology in kickstarting business.”
Willem Niemeijer, Chairman of Yaana Ventures, in his assessment of prospects of a prolonged ban on international travel, said “I think the future will be very dark if the borders are going to be closed for six months,” he observed. “I don’t think Thailand could survive, let alone the tourism industry. It would be bringing Thailand back to the 1970s.”
Fomer SkalBkk President Willem Niemeijer later went onto discuss reaching out to the domestic market that is now the focus of Thailand’s tourism recovery effort as its borders remain closed to foreign tourists. “It’s not just dumping prices for no particular reason. You have to go to a lower price point to get the domestic market and get people in the door.”
We were honoured with the presence of Skål International Thailand President Wolfgang Grimm owner of the Anana Ecological Resort in Krabi who is passionate about the environment and how we as humans interact with mother nature. On the sidelines of the meeting he told me, “In a post Covid-19 world we must consider ways in achieving a more sustainable future of tourism. Tourism has come to a global stand-still presenting an opportunity to evaluate the lessons and consequences. It’s important to take time to consider a reset to our industry, instead of returning to the old ways. We need to engage in mobilising the local community with small, easily achievable sustainable activities which benefit everyone,” he said.
Luxury travel, technology and niche marketing were highlighted by Travel Weekly Asia in their report on the meeting , “IC Partners CEO and American Chamber of Commerce Travel and Tourism Committee Chair Charlie Blocker thinks a “systemic change” is underway, echoing a message hammered home by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Ministry of Tourism about going after high-value tourists. “We’ve heard them talk quality over quantity before, but that’s real religion now. Blocker also pointed to the newly launched Asia Travel Technology Industry Association, backed by Agoda, Booking-dot-com, Expedia and Airbnb, that will work with government authorities.“
Christian Stoeckli, General Manager at Diethelm Travel Thailand, predicts that customers will pay for enhanced health measures. “We are sure that consumers are ready to pay a little bit more. International travellers are looking for health and safety procedures that they can trust he also emphasised the importance of identifying niche markets. “What do Thai people want?” he asked. “Do they want a farm stay? A photo stop? You need to be a little more creative. We’re thinking of family holidays, kids’ camps, kid stays.”
Skål International Phuket President Robert de Graaf, who also attended the lunch, raised the question from the floor of health over profit and expressed his concern that we are delaying restarting tourism with countries that have a good track record with controlling the coronavirus. He made the point that while it would not be advisable to restart international flights with ALL countries there are some however, that are doing very well. We must not make a blanket decision that is a lost opportunity to restart tourism and to start protecting jobs once more.