The Missing Smile in Thailand’s Hospitality Industry!
For the last few days, I was in Thailand along with friends to celebrate the Thai Songkran Water Festival. Spraying water on passersby and being poured with ice-cold water was super fun – the gamers (a large part were tourists) were all happy playing.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about Thailand’s tourism industry. Right from the Airport (DMK), the Hotels we stayed and the shops we visited, we could clearly see the absence of a “warmth”. Even when you thanked the shopkeeper, in some shops the return smile was missing. It was absent! Initially, I thought it was the standard apathy towards Indian Citizens, who in general are not courteous nor the well-behaved – in my travels I have seen absolutely rude people from other countries – but this was different.
For a city like Pattaya, where the major source of income is Tourism, the service levels were poor. I have been to the city in 1998 and again in 2016, maybe I have become bored and more discerning, maybe it was because of the Songkran holiday crowd, but still, the city feels overexploited and extremely touristy.
Examples you ask:
- The VISA On Arrival (Fee of THB waived till this month end) process at the Bangkok DMK Airport was the worst I have been to. It took us nearly 3 hours of standing in three different queues – first was an inspection of the documents, the second was the stamping of VISA (VoA) and the third was the actual immigration stamping. The low-cost terminal itself was small and there were thousands of people mostly from China and India, occupying every inch of space and no working Air-Conditioning – it was sweating and suffocating. I wanted to apply for a VISA in Chennai, but my travel agent advised me against as Thailand Authorities are suspicious if you avoid VoA and so demand numerous documentation – I couldn’t understand the logic behind such a move, but this is what I was told.
- In a fashion shop in Pattaya, we had ordered a suit at THB 5500 and two shirts at THB 1000 each – we were promised a call after a day for trial, which we never got – when we went after two days, the items were ready, but the shopkeeper (the owner was Indian Origin) was focused on attending to a European couple (nothing wrong, but he could’ve just acknowledged us), made us wait for over 30 minutes, then he pointed us towards the clothes for self-service – trying the clothes we were happy with the stitching and the material and we wished to buy two new trousers – the owner refused for new business, saying buy it next time!
- In the shops we went for purchases like T-Shirts, Electronics (not me) and Handicrafts, for the number of shops that provided a great service with a smile (like the lady in the picture below who asked for a selfie after I bought an Elephant model for THB 400), there were shopkeepers who were rude and indifferent – this ratio will never be 100% but not 50-50 like it was here.
- At the Pattaya’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not, I had booked for 8 PM show at Moving Theater 9DX. After buying the ticket, I was asked to sit in the chairs opposite the entry door, where I waited from 7:50 PM. A few minutes later, I saw two of the operators screaming at me – I walked to them and without a word, I was figuratively pushed inside the theatre and left with no welcome nor any instructions – I was the only one in a 50 seat theatre for a show that started 5 minutes before.
- The most shocking was what happened with the Taxi Driver of the van, who dropped us in the Bangkok DMK Airport from Pattaya. We had booked the Van for 3:30 PM, he called me at 3:25, before I could pick, he cut the call. When I returned the call and said we will be there in 10 minutes, he again cut the call before I could finish the sentence. Then when we boarded the van, at 3:45 PM, I expressed my sincere sorry, and I was ready to pay for any waiting charges had he asked. Instead, he turned his face away. During the three hours ride, he was visibly angry, even though we requested him many times he kept the Aircon warm and the music loud. Then when we got down in the Airport, he was cleaning the seats – during the ride, we had mistakenly (we shouldn’t have, I agree) dropped a snack half-eaten on the floor of the van, he picked it up and threw it on my face. I was speechless. I would’ve been happy to pay him for the cleaning charges and the waiting fee, but physically abusing is not okay!
It felt like Thai workers just want the tourist money but not the tourist – you can’t have your cake and eat it too!
Let me make it clear, I am not defending my fellow Indians – many times, when travelling abroad (or even within India) I am ashamed I am an Indian when Indian’s misbehave or being rude, like being heavily drunk on a scheduled flight and vomiting.
I get it – that what we give out is what we receive. And that the Rude Driver was no representation of a whole country, which has a hospitable population. I am sure that’s the reason why it gets many times more tourists in a year than India.
But, in this Thailand trip what I found was the absence of a smile on many occasions where normally one would’ve been there. It doesn’t cost to smile especially when I was smiling and thanking!