Readers' Submissions

An Open Letter To The Failure That Is The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)




This week I have been reflecting on the TAT’s total lack of credibility, the scandals, the mismanagement, falling tourist numbers and junkets to who knows where or for what reason. The lack of any marketing skills whatsoever on TAT’s part is legend. Billions of baht have been spent (wasted) recently on failed programs with no oversight or accountability. With the astronomical amounts of money being shoved down a black hole can the TAT explain why they cannot even come up with a two or three word slogan to market Thailand as a tourist destination? “Amazing Thailand” was so last century. One may think that this is just another one to the thousands of complaint letters that TAT must receive every month from tourists, vendors, tour operators, hotels and hostels but I’m here to offer a program guaranteed to make money for the government and entrepreneurs as well. I am offering this custom tailored program to the TAT free of all charges except maybe a plaque of recognition when this takes off like a rocket.

I can sum it up in two words: Extreme Tourism. I want you to conjure up a vision of rolling down a dirt road in the one of the three southern most provinces in a military vehicle with an armed military escort. This for many would be a thrill but we haven’t even started our adventure. As you recall, this area is plagued by what many call an insurgency and what some call a civil war where as many as 4,000 people have been killed over the past four years. The South Thailand insurgency is a separatist campaign which is taking place in the predominantly Malay Pattani region, made up of the three southernmost provinces of Thailand, with violence increasingly spilling over into other provinces. Although separatist violence has occurred for decades in the region, the campaign escalated in 2004. This backdrop sets the scene for an ambitious Extreme Tourism program that will finally put Thailand on the map.

The Royal Thai Army has ordered 96 brand new armored personnel carriers (APCs) from Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau in the Ukraine. The 16.4 ton monsters called the BTR-3 is becoming quite popular. Burma has ordered 1000 and Iraq has ordered 336. They are not cheap at about $1.25 million each but if Thailand is trying again to pay for military equipment with frozen chicken who really cares about price. I mention this because a frozen chicken deal for Swedish Gripen fighter jets thawed recently. These APCs are fitted out with things like the one-person KBA-105 "Shkval" unified fighting module which can accommodate 30mm gun, 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, 30mm automatic grenade launcher and anti-tank guided weapons. To me this sounds very sexy and can be used in promotional material with impunity. Another handy feature of this APC is that it’s fully amphibious. Believe it or not the BTR-3 even has power steering, automatic transmission and air-conditioning! What can be better than that? This thing holds three crew and six infantry soldiers.

Here is a synopsis of the business plan. Take three or four of these new APCs and under the Army’s watchful eye, convert them for use as tour vehicles. Rip out the utilitarian bench seats for the six infantry soldiers and replace them with VIP seats the likes of which can be found on their aging Bell 212 helicopter reserved for special flights. Really the only other major modification would be windows. You need lots of windows. Only the finest bulletproof glass will do. As a safety precaution I would not award this contract to just any general’s brother who owns an automobile repair shop. We’re talking national pride here and a showcase for Thai ingenuity.

Now back to that dirt road in the war zone. You now have a APC crammed with six high-end tourists on the adventure of a lifetime. They are on an expensive tour of an active war zone. The onboard communication equipment is crackling with news of new murder victims, improvised explosive devices, roadside bombings, police and army raids, snipers, and even the random beheading. This is all being passed on to your intrepid extreme tourists. If the APC Extreme Tourism Vehicle (APCETV) is close enough to the action they respond to the scene of the carnage. The best thing that can happen on the tour is coming under small arms fire. Four hours of true life and death experience is over as quickly as it started. The photograph of the tourist wearing that war surplus helmet with the crew and their APCETV, “Priceless”!

Marketing this program will seem magical. News agencies from around the world will be scrambling to put their perspective to a true international news story. The story will spread like bird flu throughout the internet community of well heeled extreme tourists. Word of mouth will have all the seats filled for years to come. The TAT will finally have the successful program that has eluded them so far in the 21st century.

My research leads me to believe that every single seat will be filled on every APCETV on each four hour “War Safari”. USD1,000 for each seat will be the cost of a regular tour. TAT and the Army may decide to offer group rates but that will cut into profits and is totally unnecessary given the potential popularity of the program. Hats, tee shirts and models of the APCETV will add millions to the program’s bottom line. No one, unless they are killed during to tour, will be able to resist the memorabilia from the “War Safari”. The imagination runs wild when you think of the product and branding opportunities just waiting to be capitalized upon.

To the TAT: Please don’t thank me now. Let’s wait until we have this unique Thai Extreme Tourism Experience up and running. May I suggest you and your legal team develop a waiver for your customers to protect your organization and the country from those pesky, frivolous law suits some people tend to file nowadays. Remember it is important that the waiver be in the language most often used by the participant. This is gong the bring back tourism to the Kingdom like nothing you at the TAT could ever conceive.

Good luck!

David Barkdull

Stickman's thoughts:

Thailand currently has 13 million odd visitors a year. To increase that number in these APC vehicles, each of which carries, what, a handful of tourists means you're going to need shot loads of these APCs. An amusing plan nonetheless.