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Tourism overcoming adversity

Armen Dallakyan Armen Dallakyan

Reflecting on travel, tourism & leisure in Asia and growth in visitors despite political upheaval

I recently finished an Asian tour to connect with our firms in the region and to meet some of their clients. The trip has been an eye-opening experience and a great opportunity to focus on this high-growth region. Many thanks to the hospitality of our firms in Vietnam, Philippines and Singapore and Thailand. Given the current political environment in Thailand some may find it surprising that I chose to visit now, but like many other visitors, I wanted to experience and support the country.

Thailand shares many similar traits to the rest of the region – a beautiful country steeped in history, culture and jaw-dropping scenery. It is, however, facing some difficult circumstances with political upheaval, and a struggling economy (especially when compared to others in the region). The good news, this far at least, is that Thailand is continuing to enjoy record numbers of visitors.

Have you seen the news?

Given the political and economic context, these figures are surprising. Thailand remains under military control following the 2014 coup – its second in the past 10 years – and in August the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok, a popular tourist attraction, was bombed.

Despite this, the people keep coming: Thailand is expected to welcome 30.3m visitors across the course of 2015, a rise of 22% boosted by a sharp rise in visitors from China. This is welcome news in the country as tourism accounts for an estimated 19.3% of GDP according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Why political upheaval is failing to dent visitor numbers has myriad answers, from the stunning natural beauty of the country, to the friendly and passionate people through to more severe issues in competitor regions such as the Middle East and North Africa.

Look inside, then out

The question for dynamic businesses in these markets – and indeed in others grappling with uncertainty – is how to keep attracting people. There is little, if anything, they can do to influence macro events, although they can lean on their governments to limit the effects of political issues and to make it easier for high-spend tourists to get visas. But the most dynamic business leaders will also take a closer look at their own operations, especially if they want to grow their business.

So I am encouraged to see the travel, tourism and leisure industry pushing the growth agenda. Our most recent International Business Report finds 39% of travel and tourism businesses globally planning to launch a new product or service, compared to 32% of all-sector businesses. A further 37% are expecting to increase marketing spend, compared with 30% in all sectors.

This echoes Tom Sorensen's sentiment, partner and leader of hospitality and tourism at Grant Thornton Thailand: "In the digital era, the hotel and tourism industry needs to adapt or change in order to have a bright future. Technology and social media now have direct effects on hotels, not only on how they will connect with clients but how they will also connect with a brand, the staff, an operation or even a business model. It's also a great leveller for SME's involved in the hotel and tourism industry in Thailand."

Widening the scope of your activities, then shouting about it is not revolutionary, but it makes good business sense. I’m certain that the vast majority of the millions of visitors flocking to Thailand this year will tell you that ongoing political problems did not hinder their enjoyment of local architectural wonders or golden beaches. Businesses can grow – even in the face of adversity.