First ever meeting with Thai Prime Minister and UK Tour Operators

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A momentous occasion – the first ever address by the Prime Minister of Thailand to UK travel and tourism industry, Yingluck Shinawatra meets with 10 leading tour operators at Grosvenor House, London

At 10:30 am on Tuesday, November 13, 2012, the Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, made history as the first ever Thai Prime Minister to personally meet with the UK travel and tourism industry to discuss the countries strengths and opportunities.

Held at Grosvenor House in London, the Thai Prime Minister met with 10 of the UKs leading tour operators.

The meeting opened with an address by the Prime Minster during which she recognized the UK travel and tourism industries support for Thailand, despite a troublesome few years globally in travel, and confirmed how important the role of tourism plays in Thailand as a key economic pillar.

“Tourism has been one of Thailand’s most successful industries in the last 20 years of socio-economic development. It employs over 4 million people in direct and indirect jobs. It is estimated to generate over 10% of GDP annually. In Thailand, over the last few years, we have felt the impact of both natural disasters and man-made crises, both of which impacted on travel & tourism, but we were fortunate to have made quick recoveries.

“I know that many of you played a major role in ensuring a quick recovery, and I would like to begin by thanking all our friends and colleagues in the UK travel industry for your support,” the Prime Minister began.

The United Kingdom is one of Thailand’s major trading partners and ranks second among the European countries. In terms of investment, the UK remains the largest EU investor and a key source of investment for Thailand. At the same time, Thailand’s commercial footprint in the UK is also on the rise. “We are delighted and so proud to welcome and introduce the Thai Prime Minister to some of our key partners here in the UK. It is wonderful that both the tour operators, and Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT), joint efforts and hard work have been recognized. It was a special occasion.” said Joanna Cooke, Marketing & PR Manager (TAT) London.

The Prime Minister continued in saying: “The United Kingdom continues to be a consistent source market for Thailand. We welcomed more than 771,466 UK visitors in 2011. During January – September 2012, UK is one of largest market from Europe with total arrivals of 628,880, up 0.54 percent over the same period of last year. Although small growth is just a sign of the times and a reflection of the global downturn in travel, a closer look shows why the UK market still remains of great importance. In 2011, UK visitors had an average length of stay 17.35 days per person per visit, well above the 9-day average of all visitors to Thailand. Also, UK visitors also have one of the highest rates of repeat-visitors, 67% in 2011.

“The Tourism Authority of Thailand considers the UK a mature market, and has adjusted its marketing strategies in line with this. This means a greater emphasis on senior citizens, the honeymoon market, Families, Students, and Ecotourism. Thailand’s unique products and services are well-suited to attract these categories and quality markets and include promoting new experiences such as Thai cuisine and Thai cooking classes, Thai massage, Thai culture, arts, crafts and hospitality.

“By the end of 2012, we are projecting at 20.5 million foreign visitor arrivals, of which European visitors are estimated at 5.1 million and UK visitors at 810,000.”

Her speech also mentioned opportunities for 2013 and beyond.

“As we look to the future, one of Thailand’s major advantages, its geographical location at the heart of Asia, will be further bolstered by the positive changes taking place in both Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) and the Greater Mekhong Sub-region (GMS). In terms of ASEAN, the trade and services liberalisation that will come with the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015 will boost people’s movements through and within the 10-member grouping. In terms of the GMS, the opening up of Myanmar will also benefit Thailand, as the two countries are connected by air, land and sea.

“Certainly one of the major areas of development will be North Thailand, especially the city of Chiang Mai, which we call the Rose of the North. Access is to be enhanced by daily domestic direct flights from the popular beach resorts of Phuket and Ko Samui.

“To capitalize on this growth potential, my government will be spending extensively on development of the necessary infrastructure. This will include expansion of Phuket International Airport to accommodate larger aircraft and grow the passenger capacity of the terminal, improving facilities at Don Mueang Airport as a secondary airport for Bangkok and expansion of the primary airport at Suvarnabhumi International.

“As you are aware, Thai Airways International has just taken delivery of its ultra-modern luxury aircraft, the A380 which will soon be deployed on flights to Heathrow airport. That will help increase capacity to a large extent. And the improvements of Phuket airport will also add to the growth potential by allowing new charters and increased access by the Middle East airlines through their hubs in the Gulf.

“All of these projects are designed to make it easy for everyone, both tourists as well as the people of ASEAN and Thailand to travel to, from and within the kingdom.”

The Prime Minister closed her address by thanking each of the tour operator guests for their time to meet with her and she expressed, on behalf of Thailand, how much the country values the long and fruitful relationship the UK and Thailand have shared for so long and how she looks forward to forging stronger partnerships in the near future.

Quote from two tour operator guests:

“It was an honor to meet the Prime Minister today and reassuring to hear, first-hand, that the UK market is high on the Thai government’s rada,r and her informed views on how the brand Thailand will be marketed in the future.” John Taker, Purchasing Director, Virgin Holidays

“The meeting with the Thai Prime Minister was informative and worthwhile. The fact the Prime Minister is in London opening a dialogue and talking to tour operators shows the importance of UK tourism to Thailand.” Tony Russell, Managing Director, Trailfinders

PHOTO (Center): Prime Minister of Thailand, HE Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra; (Back row, left to right): Glen Mintrim, Managing Director UK, STA Travel Group; Lesley Rollo, Managing Director of Longhaul Brands, Hayes & Jarvis (TUI); Wendey Kenneally, Vice President of Production, Kuoni Travel Ltd.; John Taker, Purchasing Director, Virgin Holidays; Steve Barrass, Deputy Managing Director, Thomas Cook; (Front row, left to right): Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr. Suraphon Svetasreni; Tony Russell, Managing Director, Trailfinders; David Kevan, Managing Director, Chic Locations; Prime Minister of Thailand, HE Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra; James Bell, Sales & Marketing Director, Turquoise Holidays; Chairman of the Thailand Tourism Council, Mr. Piyamarn Tejapibul; Kevin Huynh, Managing Director, Royal Orchid Holidays; Paul Hopkinson, Marketing Director, Stella Travel Services (Travel2 / Travelbag); Deputy Governor for International Marketing, Juthaporn Rerngronasa

Not pictured but in attendance on behalf of the Royal Thai Government was: Deputy Prime Minister, HE Mr. Kittiratt Na-Ranong; Secretary General to Prime Minister, Mr. Suranand Vejjajiva; HE Mr. Pasan Teparak, Ambassador to Thailand in the UK