|By Nondhanada Intarakomalyasut, Bangkok Post, Thailand|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
June 16, 2004 -Thailand could soon have its own hotel chain brand, equivalent to international names such as Sofitel or Le Meridien, under a government-backed initiative that could cost taxpayers 1.2 billion baht.
The proposal is part of a broader plan to upgrade the industry by the Tourism and Sports Ministry and the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT). It aims to create an internally recognised seal of approval for Thai hotels and resorts that meet high quality and service standards as set by professionals, industry experts and prominent institutions.
TCT chairman Vichit Na Ranong said the ministry was seeking a budget of 1.2 billion baht to fund the programme.
The funds would be spent to develop a comprehensive curriculum for independent hotels and to hire professionals to train their staff, from maids and bellboys to the management level.
When a hotel completes the course, a certificate will be given as an assurance of the standard. Auditors will also be sent to inspect the property every year.
The certified hotels would then be regrouped and rebranded under new chains, depending on their star-rating system.
"For example, we may attach the Siam brand to the hotel's existing name, so the guests would know that the hotels are of the same standard as international chains," said Mr Vichit.
The programme is aimed at narrowing the 40 percent gap in service charges by international hotel chains and independent local hotels.
"It is unreasonable that the service fees [between Thai and international hotel chains] are so different, as in reality the facilities and services are not so different. So, having a brand is essential in upgrading our image among tourists," said Mr Vichit.
After the programme is completed, the service fees of local hotels could be raised by at least 20 percent, said Mr Vichit.
About 20 percent of the 300,000 hotel rooms in Thailand are operated by international chains and the rest by independent operators. Initially, the programme will target half of the independent hotels.
A similar branding programme would be introduced later for other tourism-related segments such as tour agents, said Mr Vichit.
If the government agreed to invest 1.2 billion baht in the programme, the country would eventually earn much more from higher service fees generated by local operators.
The government, meanwhile, would earn more from value-added and local taxes.
Prakit Chinamornpong, secretary of the Thai Hotels Association, said that providing training would surely enhance the quality of the staff but the 1.2-billion-baht budget was too high.
"I don't know what the scope of the programme is, but I think that's quite a large amount of money," he said.
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