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29 Sep, 2008

PATA CEO Makes Early Exit

(TTR Weekly Editor Don Ross contributed to this report)

HYDERABAD — Pacific Asia Travel Association CEO and president, Peter de Jong, will vacate the helm of the association on 17 October, some six months ahead of the schedule outlined in his own statements in which he said he was prepared to handover responsibilities to a successor in April 2009.

Mr de Jong, who took office in late 2001 for a five-year term, was given a three-year extension, which would have run up to the end of 2009. A search for a replacement began this year.

Mr de Jong’s decision to leave early was announced by the association’s chairperson, Janice Antonson in the final moments of the Sept 21 board meeting in Hyderabad.  She said the organisation had received an exceptional field of applicants and Mr de Jong requested that his departure date be advanced.

Thirty people applied for the CEO post up until the closing date, earlier this month. According Ms Antonson, the field of candidates was narrowed down to a select few and the successful candidate would be recommended to the Board for approval at its meeting in January 2009.

Mr de Jong decision to leave early shocked many board members. In his management report to the Sept 21 board meeting, Mr de Jong wrote:

“While my contract as your CEO runs through 2009, I suggested to the executive committee — and they agreed — that it would be most appropriate and useful for PATA to have my successor selected by the time of the PATA Annual Meeting in Macau in April 2009. Once appointed, we could then determine the appropriate hand-over calendar, based on the new CEO’s availability.”

PATA’s press release gives no hint of why Mr de Jong decided to depart early. However, it came at end of what one executive committee member called “five of the most unpleasant days of my life”, a reference to some intense inner-circle meetings understood to have taken place before the board meeting itself.

Only one other PATA CEO in the history of the 57-year organisation, has vacated the office so abruptly. That was when president, Edward Johnson, announced his immediate departure to a shocked board of directors meeting during the 1979 annual conference in Korea. He had worked for PATA for just two years.

Ms Antonson praised Mr de Jong’s commitment to PATA: “During his seven years at the helm, Peter has worked tirelessly on behalf of PATA and its members. He guided Asia Pacific’s leading travel trade association, a dynamic and influential voice of international tourism. We will miss his loyalty and professionalism.”

She did not elaborate on whether the tradition of awarding previous presidents with life membership would continue. Pending the appointment of a replacement, immediate past chairman Brian Deeson will act as interim CEO, effective October.

Mr Deeson, a senior executive of Accor Hospitality, has served on the executive committee as honorary treasurer and later as the association’s chairman, all during Mr de Jong’s tenure as president.

Now, the focus has shifted to Mr. de Jong’s replacement, and more controversy has already arisen.

One of the short-listed candidates has reportedly said he would like to see the PATA HQ moved from Thailand to either Singapore or Hong Kong.

His comments, according to reliable sources, had PATA staff, especially the Thai staff, in an uproar. There has been talk of a petition that would identify the candidate and bring to light other statements made concerning his ambitious plans for the association.

PATA staff morale is now at a low ebb with executives privately stating they are demoralised by what they heard of the inner circle discussions alongside the Hyderabad board and committee meetings.

Insiders confirm there have been threats to take their views to the highest level to ensure that the selection process for the new CEO is carried out with transparency for the sake of all candidates and subsequently the future of the association and their careers.

Sources at PATA claimed the candidate has also talked openly of what he plans to do “when” he becomes the president and CEO.

This has raised questions about the fairness of the selection process as well as why it was necessary to go through it in the first place. If there is already a plan to appoint that candidate, the other applicants have every reason to wonder what the so-called “selection process” was all about, and whether they were just wasting their time applying for the job.

Reactions are already coming in. Mr. John A.Semone, who worked in various senior PATA positions for 17 years, wrote to say: “The old boys club that continue to run PATA as a fiefdom must be replaced with a younger generation that will hold to the principles of the original founders.  A new leadership that will make changes that will ensure a continued growth with new ideas and flexibility in this quick moving travel and tourism industry.”

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