The problem with destinations that profess wanting quality tourism is they don’t actually know what it is that they want.

In Southeast Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Laos are among the countries that have at one time or another said they wanted quality tourism. 

But what is quality tourism? To some, a low spender who appreciates and cares for the environment is worth his weight in gold compared to a rich traveler who cares less. Others really just want high spenders but dare not say so outright, as this may come across as crass and upset the lesser-spending lot — whom they also want.

Ideally, quality tourism should be inclusive, welcoming both rich and poor guests who respect a country’s people, their culture and heritage, their tourism jewels. It should have healthy, responsible businesses that can grow and enrich the travel industry ecosystem and contribute to the economy by creating jobs, training people, and broadening the minds of locals through contact with foreigners. 

If you think about it, that’s what tourism should be. Which means all tourism should be quality; there shouldn’t be a category of “quality tourism” at all.

But tourism is such an easy — and lazy — way to increase a country’s coffers, when actually countries should have their brainiest people working on a tourism plan: not only setting up a seamless infrastructure and encouraging developments that support the vision but also setting rules and ensuring they’re enforced to rid tourism of scourges such as corruption and the like.

Alas, a tourism plan is usually done by what we in Asia call the NTO (national tourism organization), despite tourism enveloping a gamut of economic sectors. 

An NTO alone does not have the power to produce an effective plan. That’s why an NTO’s vision of how to increase revenues is almost always done from a marketing perspective. Want more higher-paying customers? Go market to the upper-income groups in quality markets (re: wealthy). Avoid overtourism? Go market more during low seasons.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is a good example, as our story shows. This NTO has done a marvelous job promoting Thailand. As it turns 60 years old, it makes a vow to go after quality tourism. It’s a sweet promise, well meant.

But misplaced.

— Raini Hamdi, Skift Asia Editor, rh@skift.com, @RainiHamdi

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Asia Editor Raini Hamdi [rh@skift.com] curates the Skift Asia Weekly newsletter. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.

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Photo Credit: Trisara, a beach resort in Phuket, Thailand. Tourism Authority of Thailand marks 60 years in operation with a push toward responsible tourism. Can it deliver on this promise? Trisara