FIRST-CLASS FACILITIES

Thailand 2017 | CULTURE & TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Weerasak Kowsura, Board Chairman of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) & Board Chairman of Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA), on the country's booming MICE industry and the benefits of community-based tourism.

Weerasak Kowsura
BIOGRAPHY
Weerasak Kowsura serves as Chairman of the Thai Convention & Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) and Chairman of Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (DASTA). He was formerly Minister of Tourism and Sports, Chairman of the Board of Sports Authority of Thailand, and of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. He was also Vice Minister for Culture and Vice Minister for Social Development and Human Security, once serving as Deputy Secretary General to the Prime Minister.

What have been some of the key successes of TCEB in boosting Thailand's MICE industry?

We have been fortunate over the last three to four years to receive a large number of attendees for high-profile events here in Thailand, often attracting 50,000 visitors and above. One of the reasons for this is because we actively target corporate clients such as business leaders, executives, and board members from key multinational companies to persuade them to hold their meetings in Bangkok. It is not only about offering them first-class facilities; they also want to be on the ground and perhaps see how big the market is and what the potential for growth is. In particular, we target markets in southern China in line with the surge in visitors from there. From global economic forecasts, money markets grow quickly in this region and business naturally follows the money. We will also hold a number of large international conferences in Bangkok for niche sectors. In terms of exhibitions, as Thailand has great manufacturing capabilities, we are able to organize some of the largest and most respected exhibitions here. In the past few months alone, we have organized some major high-profile events for the packaging, gems, IT, and telecoms industries. At the same time, Thailand is renowned for its automotive and tourism-related exhibitions and these are held regularly here to the highest global standards, bringing in tens of thousands of international visitors.

What is the importance of community-based tourism, and why is it such a priority for the government?

We are situated in the middle of three of the biggest and oldest civilizations in the world: India, China, and the Khmer. These three civilizations, each over 1,000 years old, mixing together here has made our land one big melting pot over the past millennium, and gives us a unique culture and heritage to not only show the world but also to appreciate ourselves. Community-based tourism allows us to explore more about ourselves. For foreigners interested in exploring this rich heritage, the typical tourist packages fail to give them this experience. Packages are often fully prearranged, including accommodation, food, and other vendors, and there is little opportunity to actually explore. Community-based tourism takes a different approach; it allows visitors to really zoom in and experience the grassroots of the culture, mixing with locals, learning from each other, and sharing experiences. This is important for the country because it allows us to diversify our tourism mix; we can channel the record number of arrivals expected this year to different regions and experiences. More importantly, for the communities mentioned, it gives them a sustainable source of revenue and opens a whole new world of opportunities. This is where DASTA comes in.

What have been the key achievements of DASTA in supporting community-based tourism in Thailand?

Over the past decade, we have helped develop six regions across the country as community-based tourism destinations: Koh Chang, Pattaya, Sukhothai, Loei, Nan, and Suphan Buri. The goal of DASTA is not to change the community, it is to support regions if they wish to benefit from the boom in Thailand's tourism industry. After an area is designated directly by the cabinet, we create a master plan with the local community, a process that can often take many years to get right and make everyone happy. The relationship between the central government and local authorities is not always smooth at the beginning. Over time, we bring everyone together, including the local authorities, members of the community, and business people, and discuss ways to create opportunities for everyone. I can confidently say that in each of the areas we have developed, we are always welcomed in the end. Now we seek cabinet approval to also develop Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai province, and Cha-am and Hua Hin in Phetchaburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan provinces, respectively. Going forward, I see great opportunity for DASTA to expand its capability and serve each area of the country.