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The Zero-Dollar Tourist

A Shift In The ‘Quality vs. Quantity’ Demographics

21493_1322_[ccphoto_flickr_ginkgotelegraphTop-heavy double decker buses swarm the seashell and jewellery outlets. Phi Phi’s Maya Bay is filled with schools of not fish, but lifejacket clad snorkelers. Throngs of crowds scuttle toward the edge of Promthep Cape for that sunset pose, where selfies are then Instagrammed to their online masses. The proverbial closed umbrella hoisted high by a tour guide among droves of Wat Chalong photo-snappers. Mass tourism – bad for the environment, but good for business; or is it?

Concerning Thailand and more specifically its Chinese tourists, these alleged low-quality visitors, otherwise known as ‘Zero-Dollar’ tourists, are on the front burners with both the Thai and Chinese governments who are trying to curb the massive influx. In October of 2013, the Chinese government initiated new regulations to restrict the number of outbound tourists and to put an end to the Zero-Dollar clusters.

Mr. Chanchai Duangjit, who’s the Chief of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) at the Phuket Office stated, “This is a positive way to help reduce low-quality tourists.” He went on to say, “These tour packages have given a negative image to Thailand tourism for a long time. In the past, there were no strict regulations to address this problem and there were many bad tour guides who deceived Chinese tourists.”

According to the chief, another negative consequence of mass tourism is: the shortage of knowledgeable and credible guides, minimal transportation options, a compromise of infrastructure, and dwindling profits for local businesses, tour-related or otherwise.

21493_7704_chinesetouristsAn example of the recent initiatives is, Chinese officials will be examining tour operators’ itineraries based in both China and Thailand. It will be mandatory for these outfitters to clearly define the particulars of their respective programs.

Additionally, such packages must be only purchased in China. Subsequently, the tourists will be refrained from any extracurricular activities that aren’t specifically disclosed in their designated itineraries. Any violation by a tour operator pertaining to the new policies are subject to a 300,000Yuan fine (1.5 million baht) and/or risk their tour license being nullified.

There have been a few disconcerted local operators who claim that their profits have noticeably decreased since the inception of the new regulations. They claim tour companies who directly cater to the Chinese tourists in China, will be the main beneficiaries, while leaving local operators possibly earning just 1,500 baht a day. This is due to the former promoting profitable ancillary services in addition to the tours’ primary packages.

Mass tourism continues to be a double-edge sword. And, if the Thai and Chinese governments have their way, one side of the blade will become less keen as times goes on. There may be losses of surplus for the locals up-front, but there is indeed hope that when one door closes, another opportunity awaits with mutual rewards for all, including the environment.

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