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10 Nov, 2008

PATA Faces “Major Overhaul”, says Acting CEO

The Bangkok-based Pacific Asia Travel Association has embarked upon a “major overhaul” covering just about every aspect of its internal and external structures, membership relevance and future directions, according to acting President and CEO Brian Deeson.

Mr. Deeson, a former PATA chairman and secretary/treasurer, is Vice President Industry Affairs for Accor Hospitality based in Sydney. He is managing a brief transition process under way since the departure of former President and CEO Peter de Jong on Oct 21 and the appointment of a new CEO, possibly in January 2009.

On Nov 6, four shortlisted candidates for the CEO’s job were interviewed in Bangkok.

In a 90-minute interview last week, Mr. Deeson said that PATA “needs to become more democratic, and to be seen to more democratic.”

The broad-ranging “overhaul” now under way is designed to give its members a sense of ownership, revive networking opportunities, keep them informed about its financial status and improve the reporting structure.

It involves revamping the election procedures and membership fees, restructuring the board of directors and various committees, and revitalising the numerous chapters worldwide.

Most important, PATA has to prove its relevance, value and usefulness as it seeks to both retain existing members and attract new members, Mr. Deeson said.

It also has to deal with the competition from ITB Asia and upgrade the PATA Travel Mart, its premier source of events revenue.

He said that all this has to be done against the background of unprecedented changes taking place within travel & tourism industry as well as the world at large.

“One has to question everything and provide value. We have look at what we are trying to do. Important feedback has been received on the events side, (reflecting a feeling that) PATA members lost a valuable networking opportunity when the annual conference was dropped.”

He said the first step towards rectifying that will be taken in April 2009 in Macau when the bi-annual board of directors meeting will be converted into a mini-annual conference.

He said the CEO Challenge, held for the first time in Bangkok last April, will remain here again in 2009 but probably rescheduled to late November. Discussions on detailed content are under way.

Asked about the PATA Travel Mart and the competitive threat posed by ITB Asia, Mr. Deeson said he felt that the PTM would be able to hold its own as it was well-established and rotated around different destinations, with the two upcoming host cities being “very attractive”, Hangzhou in 2009 and Macau in 2010.

However, he agreed that it would some face financial pressure, due to both its proximity to ITB Asia and the fact that it was getting more difficult even for companies to make budget these days.

He said the PTM 2008 had yielded a bottom line figure of “close to half a million dollars”.

As part of the restructuring process, a questionnaire survey went out to members last week, seeking “quick feedback, ideas and comments” on what they would like to see PATA do in terms of delivering a better quality of programmes and services.

On the financial side, Mr. Deeson said that 2009 would be a “critical year”. Thus, membership renewal is a major focus, targetted at many who had begun to feel disenfranchised over the years.

Mr. Deeson was asked to elaborate on the final moments of last September’s board meeting in Hyderabad where the chairman Janice Antonson tersely read out a two-line statement saying that “certain anomalies had been discovered and rectified.”

Asked why no further details were provided to the board, he replied: “Because they didn’t ask. They quite clearly did not think it was that critical.”

However, in the interests of transparency and disclosure, Mr. Deeson did provide more information. He said, “According to the auditors in San Francisco, they brought it to our attention that they were not sure whether the exchange rate which was used for the salaries of some senior officers of the company was being correctly advised.

“With the exchange rate in baht appreciating, the baht payment should have been reduced. The auditors did not make any judgment, just brought it to the attention of the PATA committee members. The matter was subsequently considered in the audit and finance committee, and has been rectified.”

He said the differential amounts had been repaid to PATA. He varyingly described it as an “accounting error”, “an administrative error,” a “misreading of the contract”. He said there was “never any suggestion that anything had been done illegally.”

Asked over what time frame this had been going on for, he replied, “less than two years.” Asked why it had only been detected this year, he said: “I guess they only checked it this year.”

The whole issue had placed governance “very much on our radar screen.”

On other issues, Mr. Deeson refuted rumours that the PATA HQ will be moved from Bangkok. “This has never, ever been mentioned in any of the meetings I have attended. In fact, we have just marked the 10th anniversary of our move to Bangkok.”

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