India could learn from Thailand how to boost tourism
- We must make travel easier and should allow visa-free entry to G20 as well as Southeast Asian countries
No country in Asia, if not the world, is as uniformly loved by tourists as Thailand. Visiting Bangkok this week, I was reminded again and again of its enduring appeal. Five hundred metres from my hotel, I chanced upon the novel idea of street food made easy, hygienic and accessible for foreigners and locals alike in the basement of the city’s swankiest shopping mall. At Eathai, stall after stall had offerings that one would encounter at a street market, from barbecued duck to stir fried noodles. Visitors were given cards with a QR code to scan as they ordered and then paid a cashier as they exited the area. There was even a booth for tourists to obtain VAT refunds on their purchases. The contrast between the moderately priced hearty fare at Eathai in the basement of the Central embassy mall and the wildly expensive fashion of Paul Smith and Versace, Christian Louboutin and Prada in the floors above was an inspired juxtaposition. In my case, I recovered from the sticker shock of examining Paul Smith black loafers that were about $600, despite a 30% discount because downstairs I ate like a king and sampled a good margarita for less than I would have in Mumbai or Bengaluru. When I happened to meet Pradid Intiya, Eathai’s manager, as he did his rounds of the place, where waiters bring food that you have chosen to your table after it has been prepared, he could not have been more modest about its unique appeal. After bemoaning that Bangkok was much less busy than before the pandemic, he said Eathai should boost its vegan and vegetarian options so Indians had more choice.