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25 Jul, 2011

PATA Bids to be “Voice” of Asian Travel, But “Face” Remains Non-Asian

BANGKOK – The Pacific Asia Travel Association last week advanced its recovery and rehabilitation campaign by appointing two senior-management executives to help revive its profile in the Asian region and rebuild its membership base.

But the appointment of two Thailand-based expatriates, Stu Lloyd as Senior Director – Marketing and Membership Services and Reid Ridgway as Regional Director – Asia, has done little to enhance the organisation’s over-arching objective to position itself as the “voice of Asia-Pacific travel & tourism”.

Although the organisation, under the temporary stewardship of Interim CEO Bill Calderwood, a former Deputy MD of the Australian Tourist Commission and key strategist of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, recently has taken two steps forward by unveiling  a grand strategy to address its many internal and external challenges, it has taken one step backward by not filling even one of the two positions with a born-and-bred Asian.

In a thriving Asian region of four billion people, an organisation of members spread across the Asia-Pacific and responsible for guiding the fortunes of a resurging travel & tourism sector could not find two Asians qualified enough to fill two senior positions.

A press release announcing the appointments sought to underpin the appointees’ Asian credentials. Both have spent several years of their professional life in Thailand and worked extensively in multi-cultural backgrounds with multinational companies and regional governments. In addition, both are reportedly able to speak Thai. Mr Ridgway is married to a Thai and Mr Lloyd has a Thai partner.

Mr Calderwood said they were chosen purely on the basis of their perceived ability to deliver results and help PATA members build their businesses, now set in stone as the rallying-cry for all of PATA’s future projects and activities.

He said, “Our desire was to identify the best candidates regardless of their gender, or cultural background. The criteria which we set was looking at their skills, experience and ability to do the job. That approach is what I would believe our members would expect of us.”

But in a world where perception is often more important than reality, the new appointments have only heightened the long-standing membership perception of PATA as an organisation that has been top-heavy with Western expatriates, especially since moving to Thailand from its former HQ in San Francisco in 1998.

Some of these expatriates were responsible for the mess that nearly put PATA out of business two years ago, which they tried unsuccessfully to cover up. In its entire 60-year lifespan, PATA has had only one Asian CEO, Lakshman Ratnapala, who hailed from Sri Lanka.

Given this history, it would have seemed obvious for PATA to have sourced the best Asian talent, in order to give it a more prominent Asian face, especially in view of Asia’s growing influence on the world stage. Countries such as India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Korea abound with well-educated, well-experienced travel industry executives fluent in several languages.

Mr Calderwood rebutted suggestions that local expatriates had been chosen because they both had work-permits and could seamlessly take up their new jobs, without incurring any additional moving costs.

He challenged a question about whether PATA was seen as a place worth working in. “The applicants came from across the globe, Asia, Europe, USA, Pacific and the quality overall demonstrated to me that the level of interest in working for the organisation is good.”

He also took exception to a question about whether interviews of the short-listed candidates, conducted by him and Mr Kevin Murphy, a Bangkok-based hotel consultant and member of the PATA executive board, had led to the final choice being culturally skewed in favour of expatriates.

“Are you really suggesting that they should have been automatically eliminated because they were farang?” Mr Calderwood shot back. “To suggest a bias is unfortunate and untrue, and personally offensive. Both Kevin and myself are very experienced executives who have worked and run global operations involving staff from many cultures and backgrounds, especially Asia. We brought to the process an extensive degree of professionalism and experience which has never been questioned before.”

The two appointees are due to start work in August. In addition to dealing with a highly political membership and proving PATA’s relevance in a rapidly-changing industry, they will soon be dealing with a new permanent CEO to replace Mr Calderwood at the end of his temporary assignment in November.

This job is now being sourced with the help of a head-hunter. An announcement is expected by the PATA Travel Mart in New Delhi this September, with a formal handover two months later.

  • Jaffee Yee

    Yes, it is probably good to have some Asian faces in the management team of PATA. However, I’m fully aware of the problem of trying to apply work permits and visa in Thailand as I recall reading somewhere that PATA has once considered to move the HQ out of Bangkok as it seemed to run into problem getting a work permit for its CEO. The new Thai government will need to loosen the process for foreign talents to work and contribute to the economy of the country, welcoming those with brains not just money. They have yet to learn from many other countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong that welcome foreign talents with open arms and do away any hassle for them to move there. I’m just waiting to see how things go after 2015 when AEC becomes effective. Thailand may lose many of her talents to Singapore, Malaysia and other ASEAN countries that have no red tapes in getting work permit and visa.

  • Michael

    Interesting how the colour of one’s skin is so important.

  • Whether the latest appointments were the best qualified for the roles they now fill, only time will reveal.

    Mr. Ratnapala is a poor example to cite for Asians at the helm of PATA. He was highly political, devisive and many mark PATA’s decline from his reign. At the same time, PATA has been very well-served by Renton de Alwis.

    The point? There is none. Tourism is an international business and “stacking the deck racially” is inimical to the very nature of our industry.

    Race is not a qualification or disqualification. It demeans Mr. Calderwood and Mr. Murphy to suggest they do not embrace that principle.

    PATA has changed fundamentally since its founding. Today, Asia is as much an outbound market as it is an inbound market.

  • As a PATA member, I am delighted with the appointments of Messrs Stu Lloyd and Reid Ridgway.

    Having served as a senior executive at PATA for four years, I can attest to the very challenging, interesting and sometimes turbulent journey that Stu and Reid are embarking on.

    God speed to both of them …. and to PATA!

  • Dr Joshua Peter Tan

    Maybe, it is time for PATA HQ to be relocated to Malaysia in view that our Malaysian Tourism tagline of Malaysia Truly Asia.

    Furthermore, i’m sure with the less stringent laws to obtain work permit perhaps if given the opportunity the Malaysia Tourism Federation (MTF) will be delighted to extend any form of assistance if PATA is agreable to relocate its office.