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6 Sep, 2004

What the New Bangkok Governor Promised the Tourism Sector

Now that Apirak Kosayodhin has been elected governor of Bangkok, it might be useful to cite the specific positions and ideas he cited for improving services and facilities for visitors to the city, as presented in his pre-election campaign pitch to the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) on August 25.

Heading the list of issues was parking for tour buses around Rattanakosin island, the city’s most-visited tourist spot. He said this issue was “highest on the (city tourism) agenda.”

He described the concept of creating an underground parking for the dozens of tour buses as a ‘good idea’, similar to the bus parking facilities at another popular global mass-tourism spot, the Louvre in Paris.

While putting these facilities in place would take time, Mr. Apirak said he would look into interim solutions like using smaller vehicles as a shuttle service to drop-off and pick-up the tourists, and eventually perhaps extending the mass transit systems to that part of town.

This was one of the many issues he took up in his talk at the ATTA event, the first of its kind. There is no way of ascertaining how many of the roughly 100 travel company executives who attended actually voted for him, but he did come well-prepared.

Drawing upon his travel experience as a student and private sector executive, he indicated a good understanding of what attracts visitors and tallied this with the national objectives of targetting visitors who stay longer and spend more, even while creating tourism-related jobs across the city, not just in the prominent visitor spots.

Mr. Apirak noted that many improvements necessary first for city residents can equally benefit tourism, too, such as a better environment, cleanliness, waste management, traffic and security.

While referring to internal issues like efficiency and transparency within the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, he identified a number of areas where he said Bangkok as a tourist destination fell short of other better-recognised cities like Sydney, Melbourne, London, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong.

In his main presentation and in the ensuing Q&A, the following points emerged:

<> Having visited all the 50 city districts, Mr Apirak felt that nearly all of them had some important element of historic, heritage or cultural value that could be of potential interest to visitors.

While it is important to preserve important landmarks like Rattanakosin Island, he said other places can be similarly preserved through improved management, such as Chinatown in the Yaowaraj area and even Bangkhunthian with its large mangrove areas.

<> He cited a need to upgrade facilities and services at existing tourist spots like the Chatuchak weekend markets and other city flea-markets as well as vegetables, meat and seafood markets. All these places, he said, could be made cleaner and more orderly without affecting the “local flavour.”

He noted the hundreds of small and medium sized enterprises in many of these small communities could be helped to improve the quality of food and products for sale to tourists, especially handicrafts and souvenirs.

He promised cleaner klongs, especially on the Thonburi side, and closer contacts with art galleries and museums to promote visitors.

<> On problem-solving, he said he would involve various professional trade groupings including travel associations like ATTA, as well as related groups like the chambers of commerce, the architects association and non-governmental organizations to bring different perspectives and create “quality solutions.”

<> Mr Apirak said he favoured a special pass to link all means of public transport like buses, boats, trains and the mass-transit systems to reduce travel time and costs. Public buses would also be connected to the subway and the Skytrain, especially to points with no current links.

<> He said he would zone the Sathorn, Silom and Rama 3 areas into a Central Business District and provide it with adequate facilities.

<> He noted the need to boost security by working more closely with the Tourist Police, setting up an efficient emergency call-centre and lighting up dark alleys.

<> The roughly 70,000 to 80,000 city taxi-drivers could do with improved language skills, especially English and possibly even Chinese to accommodate the thousands of visitors expected from China in future. He favoured creating taxi stands so they don’t stop anywhere and jam traffic.

<> He would improve quality of information for visitors to help them better find tourist spots, as well the quality and efficiency of service they get at the various spots.

<> He promised to do visitor surveys every three months to get feedback on progress made on the various issues and identify further obstacles.

<> He would boost the present number of 14 city parks with “pocket parks” that would make use of vacant space, such as under the bridges and expressways, to improve air quality and provide a place for recreation.

With a new airport due to open next year, and the government targetting 20 million visitors by 2008, when Mr. Apirak’s four-year term will end, the new governor clearly has his work set out for him.

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