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«786 110 Eco-Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Development Mr. Weerasak Kowsurat, Minister of Tourism and Sport Keynote address at Thailand Focus 2008 ...»

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786 110

Eco-Tourism and Sustainable Tourism Development

Mr. Weerasak Kowsurat, Minister of Tourism and Sport

Keynote address at Thailand Focus 2008

Plaza Athenee, Bangkok, 18 September 2008

I d like to begin by sharing with you a broad outline of our plans for Thailand s tourism

industry.

As one of the key drivers of Thailand s economic growth, tourism continues to play an

increasingly important role in the country s national agenda.

I have always believed that a vibrant tourism industry is one that is well-balanced, profitable and sustainable. A strong and efficient tourism industry will greatly benefit everyone involved and allow all stakeholders to enjoy their fair share of the resulting business.

Tourism is one of the world s fastest growing industries. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals reached 903 million in 2007, up 6.6% on

2006. International tourism receipts grew to 856 billion US dollars (euro 625 billion) in 2007, corresponding to an increase terms of 5.6% on 2006.

Travel & tourism has now become a need-to lifestyle choice.Once upon a time, it was considered a low priority on the list of things to do with disposable income. Today, it is unstoppable. Today, people all over the world are traveling for leisure and business, to visit friends and relatives, to study, to attend meetings and conventions, to learn how to cook a new dish or for health and wellness, or for many more reasons.

The 10-member ASEAN countries are already a major source of visitor arrivals for us in Thailand, thanks largely to the visa-free travel privileges. The numbers are likely to grow more strongly in future as the ASEAN Free Trade Area economic integration complete The GMS is of course our natural neighbourhood. Thailand has been working hard to boost our links with Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and southern China for more than a decade now. We have a number of tourism marketing programmes in place, along with strong transportation links. More importantly, China and India will definitely be the markets of the future, and their large populations, growing economies and proximity to Thailand almost guarantee a limitless source of visitors.

The Asian highway is a network of highways being constructed to link cities along the South China Sea to those in the Bay of Bengal, as well as from Singapore to China, all of which will criss-cross through Thailand. The end result will be a multi-modal transportation grid matching that in Europe which will work wonders for intra-regional travel Now, I come to the travel & tourism industry within Thailand itself.

In 2006, the World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that Thailand s tourism sector generated over 14% of GDP. Nearly two million people are employed directly and indirectly in tourism. About 70% of the tourism revenue benefits hospitality and tourism-related businesses outside Bangkok. This helps create more tourism-related jobs and disseminate revenue to local people by boosting investment in rural areas as well as assisting thousands of Thai Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) which are the backbone of the country s economy.

The overall strategy is to grow the Thai economy and create jobs. Our plan focuses on developing quality attractions, boosting the Thai national identity, while conserving nature and the environment. That will remain unchanged.

Thailand has long enjoyed a reputation as a world class tourist destination, known for its nature, culture and traditions with hospitable people/ and a variety of high quality, value-for-money products and services. It has a very positive image on the global tourism stage.

Thailand s travel and tourism has been able to rise to its many challenges, due to a number of unique strenghts. It has a long-standing geographical advantage, a visa-free and visa-on-arrival policy allows ease of access, strong airline and aviation linkages. Our reputation for hospitality and friendliness is legendary, and so is our reputation for product delivery. This has been the basis of strong promotional campaigns both individually as well as collectively with our neighbouring countries. Another advantage is that we have accommodation catering for all budgets ranging from a few dollars per night up to over ten thousand dollars per night.

In 2007, international visitor arrivals totaled 14.4 million, an increase of 4.65% over 2006. Top ten markets were Malaysia, Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, United Kingdom, Australia, USA, Germany and Laos. India ranked number 11 with arrivals of a little over 500,000 (five hundred thousands) travelers but we expect it to join the top-ten ranks this year.

In 2008, we are projecting 15.4 million visitor arrivals, with tourism revenue projected at 600 billion baht. The domestic arrivals target in 2008 is 87 million trips and earnings of over 400 billion baht.

We are fortunate that Thailand is a year-round destination, with little differences between winter and summer seasons (if we have any winter at all because it s quite warm all year, I think). In the past, the peaks and drops between the arrivals in the winter and summer were quite pronounced but these are being sorted as more Chinese and Indian visitors come to Thailand, and intraregional travel develops. We are also working hard to disperse the visitors more evenly between the urban and rural areas in order to ensure a better and more fair distribution of tourism income.





Domestic tourism has become a very important phenomenon. In recent years, it has played a critical role in offsetting the decline in international tourism as a result of global geopolitical crises or natural disasters such as the tsunami. Promoting domestic tourism is an important part of our strategy and will become more so in future, especially as domestic transportation systems continue to be upgraded through better highways, airports and in future railways.

At a macro level it also plays a major role in facilitating the redistribution of income from urban to rural areas. We have identified a broad range of niche market customer segments as well as various opportunities to partner with media and major companies/ to target the domestic travelers.

MICE delegates are generally known to be higher spenders than the average tourists. According to the Thailand Conventional and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), income from the MICE delegates in Thailand has risen from 33 billion baht in 2004 to 55 billion baht in 2007.

TCEB also has profiled the local trade and industry associations, especially the medical fraternity which holds the biggest annual conventions. In the field of exhibitions, particular attention will be paid to the top global industries: jewellery, automotive, agriculture and fashion.

In addition, to most international convention & exhibition centers in Bagnkok, new centres are planned in regional destinations like Chiang Mai and Phuket because they play an important role in our basic policy to disperse the benefits of travel & tourism around the country. We would welcome joint venture investment in the construction and management of these upcoming centres.

Another important element is the supporting infrastructure for MICE delegates.These days many world-class speakers and top class executives and celebrities fly in via their own private jets.

Naturally, this means that we have to have the necessary facilities to support this, which creates an opening for new private-jet terminals in Don Muang airport, Phuket and Chiang Mai. That, too, is an area for you to keep in mind.

You are all aware of the power of loyalty cards like frequent flyer programmes created by airlines. Here, we have the Thailand Privilege Card. It is the world's first country membership club and offers a broad range of benefits and privileges across a whole spectrum of services, from leisure, to travel to immigration and healthcare. We are trying hard to develop this further and grow the membership.You will be happy to know that membership in this has also been opened for a few selective Thai business elite executives. Being members of this privilege card certainly opens up opportunities for networking to discuss business and investment opportunities

either in Thailand or elsewhere. Additional information is available on the website:

http://www.thailandelite.com.

The Long Stay market is growing due to the ageing populations in the industrialized countries.

Many of the elderly people find it too expensive and too cold to live in their countries in their winters. Hence, many retirees are now taking advantage of the relatively warm weather in Thailand and Southeast Asia to set up second homes in order to spend their winters. We are encouraging this through the longstay associtations in many countries like Japan, Korea, and the Scandinavian states. I m going to Japan next month to talk to a few life & health insurance companies and to discuss further of how we can better cooperate in this matter because retirees and pensioners aged 50 plus (+) are eligible to apply for special long stay visas and permits, and also eligible to avail of discounts from hospitals, golf courses, spas, hotels and resorts, restaurants, and department stores.

You will see from what I have told you so far that we are pretty well positioned to attract a broad diversity of customer market segments, and that our fundamentals are strong to support sustained growth in future. Now, let me come to the key part of the topic.

We are fortunate to have five UNESCO World Heritage sites and a large variety of historical places, palaces and temples with unique architecture, arts and culture that are perfectly-suited to attract both nature and culture enthusiasts. There is a good balance between nature and culture sites.

We have the 100 years old Historic Town of Sukhothai, the 500 years old Historic City of Ayutthaya: our second capital after Sukhothai, and the Baan Chiang Archaeological Site, the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia, are all important culture spots.

At the same time, the Toong Yai Houy Kha Kang, one of the most pristine rain forest areas of continental South-East Asia, and the Dong Phayayen Khao Yai Forest Complex/ are both nature spots.

All the Heritage Sites are very important visitor attractions, and of course the need to ensure that we maintain the World Heritage Status means that we have to ensure preservation and upkeep.

This concept was created to promote the provinces around the main tourist spots nationwide.

There are a total of 14 tourism development clusters/ but I will have time to focus only on seven at this venue.

1. The western part of North Thailand is also home of the limestone mountain range which stretches from Kanchanaburi all the way up to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. We have discovered at least 112 hot springs of various types which have high potentials for developing into spa cities and hot spring resorts. This shall be another paradise for athlete camps, resorts for health and wellness as well as beauty and body treatments.

2. In the Northeast, there are a number of areas that could attract investment, especially along the banks of the Mekong river.As I mentioned earlier, this area will develop significantly in future as our transport linkages with the neighbouring countries grow further.

3. In the central Northeast region, there are a number of archaeological sites where discoveries of dinosaur fossils indicate a long history. The Baan Chiang Archaeological Site, the most important prehistoric settlement so far discovered in South-East Asia, is an important part of this. We often receive many regular group visitors from Japan and students from Japanese schools.

4. In the southern part of the Northeast region, the famous temple regions bordering Cambodia will also become hot visitor spots, especially the well-known Ankor Wat and other temples that were built during the same period that stand for many centuries close to both side of the borderline between Thailand and Cambodia. Again, there are road and rail developments under way in that part of the region which will promote connectivity and transport.

5. In the Central part of Thailand, the river systems also offer good opportunities for cruising, development of classy restaurants and other spots to enhance the river-cruising experience, fresh water recreational activities.This extends all the way from the delta of the Chao Phraya river/ all the way up to Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.

6. One of the promising areas of investment is The Royal Coast which includes high potential resort destinations such as Hua Hin, Pranburi, Samui and Pattaya. However, this offers an even more impressive potential for investments around and all the way along the Gulf of Thailand starting from Chanthaburi, passing through the entire Eastern Seaboard, touching Pattaya, estuary and mangrove in Samut Prakan, Bangkok, fisherman town of Samut Sakhon, the stretch of fine beaches along the upper part of the Gulf and continued to the stunning water front of the Southern coast. Investment opportunities include sports complexes, aquariums, theme parks, recreational activities,luxury transportation along and connecting to various destinations along the entire coast line.

Another huge area for potential investment is the roll-on roll-off vessels that can transport cars and tour buses from one point of the Royal Coast to the other. Clearly, this will also reduce both travel time as well as congestion on the roads and facilitate greater packaging opportunities for tour companies. Certainly the same facilities can be used by logistics companies, which also achieves the same end plus conserve energy.

7. For the lower part of the Gulf and in connection with the Andaman sea, the first and only seaplane shuttle service is now available. Visitors can now enjoy this new door-to-door service to most major hotels and resorts in Phi Phi Island, Krabi and Koh Lanta. The shuttle departs from Phuket International Airport and lands directly in the waterfront of most major hotel resorts.



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