Last week it took 90 minutes to fly the 987 kilometres from Hanoi to Bangkok. It took another 95 minutes to cover the relatively short distance from the aircraft gateway to the car in Don Mueang Airport’s car park.
The main hold-up, of course, was at Immigration, where there were long queues, with only half the desks manned.
What greatly aggravated the situation, at least in my queue, were the arriving tourists who had not completed their immigration forms. When they arrived at the desk, instead of being asked to step aside and complete their forms, they were allowed to fill them out on the spot while the rest of us waited. This happened no less than eight times.
I watched speechless at this inanity while others in the queue grew increasingly restive and impatient.
Last year tourism netted Bt1.56 trillion. The entire Thai tourism infrastructure needs to lift its game if it hopes to continue to profit from tourism, and it needs to start with a very critical examination of the inadequacies of the immigration procedures at all international airports.
I travel extensively in Southeast Asia and it is my observation that other countries are rapidly overtaking Thailand as preferred destinations. Vietnam in particular is racing ahead, thanks to seamless immigration and customs procedures, safety for tourists, a comprehensive and efficient transport network, competitive pricing and service with a genuine smile.
One night in Vietnam I ordered ice for a nightcap whiskey in my hotel room. The bellhop refused a tip, saying, “No thank you, I am happy to do my job.” Can you imagine that happening in Thailand? Yes, perhaps when pigs fly.