‘Cheapest city on earth’ not proud of it
By The Nation
As a British survey points travellers to Bangkok, Thailand needs to be cultivating bigger spenders
BANGKOK: -- Once again Bangkok has been the top pick among global travel destinations in a tourism survey, but interestingly, this time it ranks highest among the cheapest. Britons answering the poll called it “the world’s cheapest city” for anyone looking for a long-haul holiday in an urban setting.
The survey by the British Post Office rated the Thai capital the best value among 10 cities on a list – total “basket price” just under 317 pounds (Bt13,600) per month. Credit our inexpensive accommodations. It costs 100 pounds less per month to live here than in Tokyo, second on the list. Those guesthouses of ours are “paying off” spectacularly in terms of pleasing the wandering masses.
This is all good news for Thais relying on tourism revenue, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared himself “pleased” with the news. But let’s be honest. Is this really an achievement worth celebrating?
The cheap prices foreign tourists enjoy come at the cost of Thai taxpayers, whose money is spent on infrastructure, electricity, tap water and other services. These are what is keeping the cost of living here highly affordable for visitors from overseas. The several million people coming to Thailand each year also contribute to traffic congestion and rubbish in the big cities, making local lives worse. Is all this worth the bragging rights over being called the cheapest city on earth?
The government spokesman quoted the premier as saying the UK survey’s finding about Bangkok was in accord with the government's policy to encourage tourists to extend their stays and spend more money, a shot in the arm for an ailing economy.
Countless measures have been taken to promote tourism, including exemption from visa fees and extension of stays for long-term visitors.
But there are critics who believe free visas aren’t a good idea for Thailand, since the practice brings in so many stingy visitors and backpackers.
And because it’s cheap here, they’re happy to stay as long as possible while spending as little as possible. Malaysia, it’s been noted, offers no visa exemptions, and in fact imposes a “tourism tax” of 10 ringgit per night (about Bt80) on any foreigner staying at a paid lodging.
Tourism has long been a source of income for millions of people in Thailand and a major revenue-earner for the public till, both in good and bad economic times. We still need foreign tourists to keep our economy afloat.
But we need to find a balance that neglects no one’s interests. Thailand should not be touted as a cheap destination, even if many tourists do come here purely because the prices are much lower compared to those in other countries.
In their YouTube videos for friends back home, they rarely forget to point out that “Everything is cheap here”. We need to pay more attention to travellers who can afford the more luxurious tourist amenities, without ignoring the bargain-hunters and backpackers who prefer street food and cheap hostels.
Tourism authorities expect as many as 35.5 million visitors this year, yet another record. The maddeningly long arrival queues at Bangkok’s airports are clear proof Thailand is still a hugely popular destination.
We just hope our guests might spend a little more and help us get the economy out of the doldrums.
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