WEST, TECH & TALKING (PART III)
Part III of IV
JOMTIEN, THAILAND - What can a business leader learn from today’s Thailand? Turns out, plenty. My wife and I recently spent two weeks in Jomtien, just south of Pattaya, Thailand. Here are ten observations that may be of interest to business leaders.
6 - Global Western/American Influence
Thailand was one of the few parts of Asia that was not colonized by the West. Yet, the influence of the West is significant. The country has an uneven integration into the global economy and Western culture. Yet the Western presence is noteworthy. All the major Western hotel brands proliferate in Thailand along with local less-costly variants. Fast-food chains are prevalent, such as McDonalds, KFC, and others. McDonalds has interesting local innovations, offering curly fries, Happy Buckets of chicken, and even corn pies!
There is a Western influence in the high-end malls. Terminal 21, a major downtown mall, has themes of London, Paris, and the USA. On a bigger scale, the English language still dominates. In general, people still use English as the main medium of communication in hotels and restaurants. Interestingly, in taxis and public venues, you hear English language music.
7 - Technology
Technology continues to transform life and various experiences, such as travel, and separates people by their level of sophistication. The nature of travel keeps evolving dramatically. If you are not moving with the times, you will be disadvantaged.
Of course, no one needs to ask for directions anymore, there is Google Maps. Taking taxis or using ride-share apps makes travel so simple. Tourists are less likely to get ripped off by using Grab and Bolt—you don’t identify yourself as a tourist before getting picked up. The fare is set in advance.
Interestingly, in busier tourist areas, you still have old-timers squawking “taxi, taxi!” Yes, there are still actual taxis. You feel like saying, “Have you not heard of ride-sharing apps? Why would I take a taxi?!“
Another great use of technology is restaurant reviews. You don’t need to ask the concierge (who is not an unbiased source) or others; just look on TripAdvisor. You walk by 20 restaurants. You can research online in advance and get the consensus pick of thousands of reviewers.
Google Translate is a useful tool—people get a kick out of it, too! I used it frequently and it works very well. People light up when they hear their native language.
The common sport of ripping off tourists is getting a lot more difficult, as long as you are technologically armed.
8 - Talking to Real People
One of the most interesting aspects of travel is actually talking to people, real people. Interacting. Not having your nose in your digital mirror. You generally can have very interesting conversations, with locals and also other tourists. I met a guy floating in our hotel pool. Turns out he was Israeli, lived in Montreal for many years, and then has been based in Thailand for the past 10 years. His business and life experience were quite fascinating.
I talked to a Russian couple coming off the ferry to Koh Larn. They lived in Vancouver for 30 years and then a few years ago moved back to Russia for a business opportunity. She had a fascinating perspective. She was wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Princeton, BC,” a small community about 3 hours east of Vancouver. I didn’t expect to see that in Pattaya!
The fellow running the ATV & Dune Buggy Adventures Tour was a British expat, now residing in Thailand. He had an intimate understanding of the volatile tourism industry. He had a great perspective on Thailand and its differences from the West.
Talking to people is also a practical way to get an understanding of things, to get the lay of the land. It seems to be a lost and dying art. For many, travel seems to be about having individual experiences next to many others. Yet, it is good to supplement what you might read in the tourist guides. In a commercial context, we would call it “business intelligence.”