H.E. Weerasak Kowsurat, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports delivered the following speech at Thailand Briefing Networking Lunch, ITB 2018, Berlin, Germany, on Friday, 9 March, 2018
Introduction & Greeting;
Your Excellency, Ambassador of Thailand to Germany
Sawasdee khrap distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the Thai tourism industry, I would like to thank all of you joining us today, particularly local buyers for their long-standing cooperation. It is always a pleasure to be at the ITB Berlin. We all are benefitted enormously from this massive annual gathering of ideas, experiences, intellect and products.
Like the success of ITB Berlin,the Thai tourism industry is also enjoying great success. we recorded 35 million visitors last christmas, an all-time high. This year, we are reaching 36 million visitors, which is an increase of 4 percent and 51 billion Euros in tourism revenue from international visitors, an increase of 8 percent. As generating growth will no longer be a problem in the years ahead, we now focus a lot more emphasis on sustainable tourism.
Less than 2 months ago in January, Thailand have successfully hosted the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF). ASEAN is unique in its own way, bringing them all together once a year under one roof is a unique showcasing and networking opportunity. Each of us are growing and growing but it is the combined power of these individual policies, especially those related to facilitation and connectivity that makes ASEAN such a popular and rapidly-growing destination.
As an example, recently, a group of vintage cars participated in a caravan through ASEAN countries starting from Singapore, Malaysia, drive around Thailand and ending the trip in Vietnam. Participants are drivers from the UK, US, Australia, a few local ASEAN and quite a few from European countries.
This helped advance the cause of ASEAN connectivity and integration. The participants were able to drive for themselves the high quality of highways and roads, to the extent that they could even drive their vintage cars.
One of the promising emerging tourism segments in Thailand, I’d like to mention this time around, is Buddhist tourism. This niche market not only draws new comers from international to Thailand, but also into ASEAN and boosts intra travel and contributes significantly to the local economy.
According to UNESCO, 60 percent of the world’s population practice religion, and these believers form the demographic base, make an estimated 600 million national and international spiritual trips worldwide, of which around half happen in Asia.
To tap this opportunity, I plan to develop connecting routes for those who are interested in Buddhism, either for philosophers, pilgrimages, shrines visits, or faith based. This will include for those people who are interested in meditation, as well as those who are keen to learn more about the cultural and historical aspects of Buddhism; such as, Buddhist art and architecture and Buddhist way of life.
Well-known Buddhist destinations in Thailand are around Bangkok Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, up north in Lanna Area in the Mekhong and North-Eastern Area of Thailand or in Nakhon Si Thammarat down south, many have been recogised as UNESCO World Heritage Site. We offer a large number of places ranging from temples and meditation centres to art galleries and archaeological spots.
The over-arching goal is to position Thailand as a preferred destination that offers quality products and services. As Minister, I would like to emphasise further tourism promotion to local communities because this will ensure a fairer distribution of tourism income, especially for people in the villages.
Because, when local communities grow, the country grows. With travel and tourism now widely recognised as a major contributor to grassroots economies and income distribution, we are now taking measures to ensure that the benefits are better distributed across the entire nation.
Let me share you my real local experience. During my New Year Holiday, I decided to join our dear tourists at an elephant camp in Tak province up north where I bathed and gave mud spa to the elephants. I also fried omelette from the gas generated from elephant dung. Some could joke about this another kind of gastronomy tourism. For me, it is a carbon footprint management and also an inspection trip of sorts to see that the elephants are being well taken care of.
The biggest challenge is making a long-lasting impression on travellers to the Kingdom. We are building a truly sustainable tourism industry. We are now in a new era of tourism in which managing growth will become our overarching priority.
On the infrastructure investment, the government agreed to invest in building high speed train connecting 3 airports of Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-tapao Pattaya. Yet, another high-speed train will be built from Bangkok – Hua Hin and we are expanding all railroad in the country to double tracks which make train tourism will become even more fascinating, besides being able to connect to the international rail from China.
The Government is also launching several other projects to improve tourism services and safety. For instance, improving roads to tourist sites, training tourism and security personnel, building more ramps, and developing niche tourism to go to museums, visit well kept gigantic trees either found in nature in community cars, and in temples. This will also be in line with our concept ‘Tourism for All – Promoting Universal Accessibility’ aimed at encouraging universal design catering to different groups of travellers.
We recognise the importance of promoting equal access, and I have been a keen advocate of this concept over the past several years as former Secretary General for the Thai People with Disability Development Foundation.
Last month, I had the opportunity to send-off a big group of visually impaired travellers returning to the UK from Thailand. I enjoyed learning about their experiences. They all loved Thailand, enjoyed our very tasty food (“it can be more spicy”, they said), they also said they felt local friendly people. They said they could feel the hustle and bustle in most of the cities they visited, from North to South from high land to Ocean but they always feel safe and secure. Many of them told me that their best memories is playing with the elephants. The rough skin but very gentle elephants made them feel happy. Some said they wanted to return to hug the elephants gain and again. Some elephants kiss them all over and they felt the cradle of nature and start kissing back!
These special guests saw our authenticity, experienced our warm welcome and natural hospitality. This is why we have been call the “Land of Smiles” even the visually-impaired can become aware of our Smiles from the Heart.
We love to recieve more senior travelers, families with toddlers, families with children and even rehabilitation patients.
In January this year, I attended the ‘Upcycling the Oceans’, pick up trash especially from beaches at the world’s famous Patong Beach. To be part of this activity, many foreign volunteers helped the local clean the coastline of the Andaman Sea. And now we’ve enforce regulation prohibit smoking at the front beach so that to sea breeze will remain fresh as it should.
We aims not only transforming plastic debris found in the ocean to re-process make fashionable fabric, but also to raise awareness to everyone to preserve the Kingdom’s coastal areas.
Let me brief you a bit about Bangkok itself, a new attraction in Bangkok “ICON Siam” will be a new innovative luxury landmark on the Chao Phraya River that shows us how the community can be combined together with a shopping complex. ICON Siam also invest its own golden line skytrain to connect to the existing skytrain BTS and by the way one more underground line is to be operational in Bangkok this year and at least one more every year for the next 5 years.
We are also cooperating with the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Natural Resources to create a newer dimension of tourism with a landmark project for tree and nature lovers as well as bird watchers. Many trees aged more than 100 years old can be found throughout the country. They also have folklore stories associated with them. We start inviting everyone to visit the Heritage of Trees in Thailand. Besides, we also have a plan to promote restaurants and markets aged over 100 years that still exist throughout the country. Visitor will be able to experience the good old days with the unique local experience.
The measures will support the “Go Local” campaign, a landmark project to promote the kingdom’s emerging generation of lesser visited destinations, better balance the tourist arrivals between urban and rural areas.
- The annual World Wai Kru Muay Thai ceremony is scheduled to take place on next weekend in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
- MotoGP World Championship; Thailand is set to get start in October, at the Buri Ram Circuit.
- Thailand Biennale in Krabi, the national initiative of contemporary art to be held from November to February next year.
- The successful Amazing Thailand Marathon Bangkok will be held again in January 2019.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The global travel and tourism industry is at a crossroads. In future, technology will revolutionise our booking systems and transportation networks. But some things will never change, and that is the need to ensure sustainability and responsible tourism.
Once more, thank you for being here and thank you for your friendship and support. It has been a real pleasure to be with you today.
Thank you and sawasdee khrap.