By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief executive Officer,
Bangkok Bank (China)
If we are intelligent about how we welcome our friends from the north, we can use tourism as a platform to develop skills that can spark other forms of business.
The Chinese are by far the largest visitor group, accounting for about one in every three arrivals.
This year authorities are targeting 10 million visitors from China. Some 5.76 million arrived in Thailand from January to July, up 20 per cent on the same period last year. These heady figures represent a tenfold increase in numbers over the past decade.
Nevertheless, this staggering influx of Chinese arrivals is straining existing tourism infrastructure.
The poor language skills of Chinese-speaking guides, and the fact there are too few of them, are among the biggest problems.
Currently there are several thousand tour guides who can speak Chinese. This number is clearly insufficient to satisfy demand.
Solutions are restricted by the law which states tour guides, along with another 38 professions, must be Thai.
The problem is further exacerbated by the lack of Chinese-language teachers (who can be foreign nationals) in Thailand.
Thais who can speak Chinese are much in demand and low salaries in the tourism sector, especially for guides, do little to attract these people when they can earn more in other sectors, leading to a chronic shortage of skilled Chinese-speaking guides.
Since it will not easy to solve this problem I suggest tackling it in two stages.
First, creative solutions must be found to overcome the lack of Chinese-language teachers.
This could involve public-private sector partnerships to develop tourism-focused language institutes.
Second, the government must put foreign-language learning on the national agenda.
Currently there is no policy for learning a second foreign language at schools, but in today’s connected world we need students to learn English and Chinese, as well as other languages.
Tourism helps to build bridges between different cultures and can open the door to many new business opportunities, and it needs to be taken seriously.
Learning to speak the language of our largest group of visitors would help us to achieve this.
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