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31 Mar, 2008

Thai Tourism Sector To Help Subsidise PATA “CEO Challenge”

The Thai tourism industry has stepped in to help prop up the financial fortunes of the PATA CEO Challenge due to be held in Bangkok between April 29-30.

In addition to the five million baht subsidy provided by the Tourism Authority of Thailand for the problem-plagued conference on the theme of climate change, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), the Elite Card, Thai Airways International and Centara Grand have recently come on board to pick up thousands of baht worth of sponsorships for the conference’s meal tickets.

“We didn’t have much choice,” said a senior TAT official. “We knew the difficulties they were having. As country hosts, we had as much to lose as they (PATA) did.”

A senior TCEB official acknowledged that the TAT had asked them to help out. “We had not even heard of this event until the TAT mentioned it,” said the executive.

TCEB will now be hosting a lunch in return for which its Director General Natwut Amornviwat will be given a speaking slot. Asked what they expect to get out of it, the executive replied, “We hope that the delegates will bring many of their future MICE events to Thailand.” In turn, the Elite Card is hoping to pick up a few more memberships.

Even as the Thai industry, and by extension the Thai taxpayer, picks up part of the tab, PATA is giving its own members a huge price cut to attend.

On February 25, PATA sent out a memo offering a “very special price incentive” for all PATA Board of Directors, Advisory & Standing Committee Members and PATA members in general who will attend both the board of directors meeting/annual general meeting in Colombo next week and the CEO Challenge.

Said the memo, “We are offering these delegates a special, one-time, non-transferable 50% discount on the CEO Challenge member fee price tag of US$1390. That is, he or she will only have to pay US$695 per delegate registration for the CEO Challenge if they have already registered for our CMB meeting.”

That proved right what one PATA board member had said last January (Travel Monitor, Jan 28), that the association, faced with the potential embarrassment of poor attendance, would have no choice except to start “lowering the registration fees” in order to start raising the numbers.

Even US$1,390 was supposed to have been an “early-bird” registration rate that was US$ 500 less than the original rate being offered to PATA members.

As many of these last-ditch attempts help salvage the situation, the PATA management is expecting reduced pressure for a rigorous post-mortem about its handling of the event. There is growing evidence that the back-tracking and flip-flops will be deflected as part of the risk of developing an entirely new conference with a new theme and format.

Although it is being described as a “unique” event at which industry CEOs will “drive the agenda by sharing their initiatives and experiences” in the field of climate change, non-governmental organisations are dismissing the effort as being a “rich-man’s club” that will do little more than produce lofty declarations.

In a statement released earlier this month, the Chiang Mai-based Ecumenical Coalition On Tourism Foundation [ECOT] challenged the industry to prove that it is as “smokeless” as it claims to be.

As the PATA region includes much of the developing world, ECOT Executive Director Caesar d’Mello said, “The perspective from the South needs to be considered as it is there that a large part of tourism activity is carried out.”

Mr. d’Mello cited a number of examples of how “tourism is proving to have severe social and ecological costs in the developing world.”

He cited “the diversion and exploitation of essential resources such as land, water, electricity, other infrastructure to support hotels, resorts, golf courses, amusement parks, etc for tourist use and entertainment; the revenue lost to host countries as a result of tax concessions, subsidized land and other costs, import advantages, low wages and reduced working conditions; and the social and economic impact of displacement caused by tourism development.”

He also cited the “ecological damage incurred through inappropriate tourism enterprises; the climate change implications through air travel, and destruction of natural resources; and the threat to cultural identity through ‘commodification’ of local culture.”

He said ECOT acknowledges that initiatives such as certification, sustainable tourism projects, and others, that have been put in place by sections of the tourism industry. “However, this is a miniscule attempt given the reach and impact of tourism.”

Asked why the event provides no platform for discussing contrary opinions, PATA chairman Brian Deeson responded, “This is not the event’s purpose. The CEO Challenge is not a debating society.

“(Its) purpose is to focus on the sharing of best practices, new initiatives and technologies by and between industry leaders in order to see these adopted and adapted by a greater number of companies.”

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