The former tourism minister of Thailand, Weerasak Kowsurat, is now the chairman of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). He is currently the agency’s acting governor until a new person takes over the post as chairman of the TAT, following the retirement of Mrs. Pornsiri Manoharn last March. He granted eTN an exclusive interview during the first edition of Thailand Golf Expo at Queen Sirikit Convention Centre, which attracted some 340 participants.
eTN: Did TAT operate a shift in its marketing strategy following the political turbulences of last April?
Weerasak Kowsurat: We, of course, do not go into the glamour anymore but look for the most efficient way to stimulate our tourism. We conducted a survey on travelers’ trends in 20 major markets. We will then share the results with hoteliers, amusement parks owners, airlines and many other players in the tourism. And we will look together to identify new ways to promote Thailand more efficiently. Niche markets such as Golfing or Muslim tourism or example are very much targeted.
eTN: How is Thai tourism doing so far? Which are the most and least affected markets?
Kowsurat: It is fair to say that we all expect now tourism will contract by 10 percent to 20 percent. However, I expect tourism to grow again by the end of the year. It is surprising to see that many markets are quite resilient and did not seem to [have] been affected by [the] April events, which is, in fact, the low season for many of our major markets, such as Europe. The best performing markets remain this year the Middle East, most ASEAN countries, India, Iran, Australia, Scandinavia, Ukraine and Russia. The most affected are definitely China and Japan.
eTN: Looking at new campaigns, is TAT getting more financial support from the government? Are there new campaigns being planned? If so, to which markets?
Kowsurat: We just received the first part of a package of Bht 1.45 billion (US$ 40.7 million). With this money, we keep covering all markets around the world including in the countries where we experience a sharp decline in arrivals. North Asia receives then almost a third of our entire marketing budget, Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as Europe approximately a quarter of it and a fifth goes to the Americas. We’re also looking to promote increasingly our country to Muslim communities and countries and encourage the industry to be more Muslim-friendly by proposing, for example, more halal products.
eTN: What are the measures to assure that tourists are well protected when coming to the kingdom?
Kowsurat: The cabinet just agreed in principle to cover all international visitors for free in case of security issues, delays, etc. We now wait for the decision of the Ministry of Finance for its full application. It will be valid until the end of the Thai fiscal year, up to October 1st.
eTN: What are the other measures to support tourism? Are there any discounts for airlines or loans for hotels to withstand the crisis?
Kowsurat: The government just approved a new round of discounts for airlines flying into Thailand which will be added to the current reductions already in place. For hoteliers, the government already unveils a financial package valued at Bht 5 billion (US$ 140.4 million) to help SME (Bank of Thailand).
eTN: Was the crisis an opportunity to further boost regional cooperation with other countries in ASEAN? Are there new products to be announced?
Kowsurat: We just discussed new measures to stimulate ASEAN tourism with more discounts proposed for ASEAN travelers coming into our country. We are also conducting conversations with Singapore to propose special attractive packages to Thailand for the visitors of the F1 night edition in Singapore next September. Some 100,000 to 150,000 viewers will attend the event, and it would then provide some great exposure for our country.