STEADY AS SHE GROWS

Thailand 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Suwat Liptapanlop, former Deputy Prime Minister, on the country's growing transport infrastructure, new trends in tourism, and the importance of reforms to Thailand.

Suwat Liptapanlop
BIOGRAPHY
Suwat Liptapanlop was born in 1955 in Ratchaburi Province and studied civil engineering at Kasetsart University before going on to study transportation at Purdue University in the US. He has held a number of high government positions, starting as Deputy Minister of Transport and Communication in 1990, with other positions having included Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Minister of Industry, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Justice.

How has transport in Thailand changed since you served as the country's Minister of Transport?

Our country is going in the right direction. This year we started to establish the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), and Thailand is perfectly situated at the center of it all. If we can link the AEC with Thailand as a central hub, it would be good for our economy, good for investment, and especially good for tourism. This is why the government is pushing for a large transportation upgrade. For example, we will have a high-speed train from Bangkok to Hua Hin and Bangkok to Rayong, which is an important industrial zone and export base, and also close to Pattaya, a top tourist destination. It is important to have this link between the industrial and tourism zones. Other than these two high-speed trains, the government has invested in double tracks that are expected to shorten travel time. The government has started taking bids for the double track train from Bangkok to Hua Hin and many other places. This is the start of expansion by double track and high-speed train. We have started to develop the motorway from Bangkok to Korat to link Bangkok to the northeast of Thailand by motorway. We will also have a motorway from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, which will link Thailand to Myanmar—a route that did not exist before.

What are some of the major trends in Thailand's tourism industry?

When we look to develop our country, we have to see where our strengths lie. Thailand's advantage is its agriculture and tourism potential. When foreigners think of tourism in this region, they think of Thailand: the food, the culture, the beaches, the malls, the hospitality, the Muay Thai. Our economy may not be great right now, but tourism is our strength. This year we expect a record 30 million visitors up from 25 million last year. More importantly, once the AEC becomes better established and really kicks off, Thailand's central position will open up more opportunities to attract holidaymakers from across the region. We have every kind of infrastructure to accommodate guests. Furthermore, with low oil prices, the cost of traveling is becoming cheaper and many low-cost airlines are springing up, offering routes to places that were never served in the past. These airlines create a platform to open new tourism hotspots; a new roadmap. We have Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Koh Samui, Hua Hin, and Chiang Mai, but now low-cost airlines can bring tourists to new, hidden places in Thailand, especially in the northeast.

As former Deputy Prime Minister of the country, how would you say Thailand's reputation has grown in the world?

We are now starting to reform our country. We are going to have new construction and it seems that the government is keen to reform our economy sector-by-sector. As we have begun to reform our laws and regulations, we will accommodate business much faster and better for people looking to invest. That will give investors more confidence, and this has to be our priority. Whilst Thailand is economically strong and sustainable already, we need to improve our efficiency and ensure we implement the necessary upgrades across all sectors of the economy. The first step is to focus on infrastructure to make use of the regional connectivity and ensure we are the logistics hub of ASEAN. Simultaneously, we have to continue developing our business culture and attracting the right types of investments. If we achieve this in the coming years, Thailand will be a country that really stands out, which is open for investment, which you can rely on. However, we cannot stand alone; we need connectivity, and not only amongst our neighbors, but also with the world. We have realized this and are going further afield, establishing new partnerships and trading deals with markets that we never had much access to previously. This is our strategy to grow in the world.