Thailand’s tourism industry needs technology if it does not want to fall behind competitors when Asean becomes an economic community in 2015.

However, Thai tourism operators should find a balance between traditional communications and new media and technology.

Datuk Mohd Ilyas Zainol Abidin, president of the Malaysian Association of Hotels (MAH), said hoteliers can’t avoid adopting technology to develop their businesses. It will benefit the business considerably and serve the demand of new-generation tourists.

“Anyway, don’t forget that you still have many people who are not as tech-savvy as their guests,” he told the Asia Pacific Digital Travel forum in Bangkok yesterday.

He projected that about 20% of tourists such as senior citizens still prefer to use traditional communications such as phone calls for booking and got their information from magazines and billboards, rather than social media and websites.

“I think traditional communications and advertising are still widely used as tourism technology. So hoteliers have to set a good balance between traditional and new communication tools if they don’t want to lose some markets, which are high-end and willing to pay more for face-to-face services,” Mr Abidin said.

The MAH is developing software for hoteliers in Kuala Lumpur. Tourists can check-in via their mobile phone and get a barcode, after which they scan the barcode at the hotel to get a key card.

Pirasan Punyagupta, president of the Thai Software Export Promotion Association (SIPA), said Thai hoteliers have to prepare themselves to deal with growing competition in the region when the Asean Economic Community fully takes place in 2015.

“It’s quite easy to access the internet in big cities but the infrastructure in many provinces is still poor,” he said.

SIPA has been in talks with hoteliers about upgrading software for the tourism industry. To encourage online bookings and transactions, Thailand also needs reliable local electronic banking services which clients can trust.

Although the majority of Thai people still prefer to transfer money through ATMs to pay for bookings, Mr Pirasan strongly believes that they will gradually shift to online payment over the next five years.

Apichai Sakulsureeyadej, president of the Tourism Technology Association, estimated that online booking already constitute around 50-60% of total bookings nationwide.

“Online marketing is very trendy now especially on social media and product previews on web pages. This shows that technology is very important to upgrade the country’s tourism industry to an international level and compete with others,” he said.

(c)2012 the Bangkok Post (Bangkok, Thailand). Distributed by MCT Information Services.