29 Aug, 2015
Bangkok – The Tourism Authority of Thailand entered a new era with the appointment of a 49-year-old, Japanese-trained economist as its first “outsider” Governor. The appointment of Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn brings to an end a tradition of appointing people from within that has been the unwritten rule ever since the TAT was founded in 1960.
Although his appointment has generated much debate in the Thai media, his background indicates a perfect set of qualifications to bolster the real objective of Thai tourism – not just generating visitor numbers but contributing to the socio-economic development of Thailand at the grassroots. Two of his previous positions – Director General of the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion between 2009-2012 and President of the National Food Institute between 2007-2009 – will help bring in fresh ideas to bolster two of the Thai tourism industry’s top objectives, promoting culinary tourism and supporting the thousands of SME businesses.
Mr. Yuthasak has his work cut out for him. The military government is in the midst of a major national reform process designed to re-engineer some of the less-desirable aspects of society, such as corruption, cronyism, political vote-buying, etc. The Prime Minister, Gen Prayut Chan-ocha has repeatedly hailed travel & tourism as a bedrock of the Thai economy, the only competitive shining star in the midst of falling exports and low prices of farm products. The TAT has already formulated its marketing plans for 2016 to promote Thailand as a “Quality Tourism Destination” by stressing tourism expenditure over tourist arrivals.
Having read all the briefing documents and done his research, Mr. Yuthasak told the media in his first press conference that he was taking over at a crucial time in the history of Thai tourism. On the one hand, visitor arrivals have risen to record levels in the first half of the year. On the other, the Aug 17 bomb attack in Bangkok has underscored the need to restore visitor confidence.
“We crossed the 20 million mark in the first eight months of the year. I see it as being my job to bring in 10 million more visitors in the remaining four months,” he said.
The new Governor said Thailand has excellent tourism products and services and that TAT itself is staffed by capable people who have done a great job in helping to make tourism one of the main pillars of Thailand’s economy. He now planned to build on this strong foundation to improve cooperation with other government agencies, the private sector and partners abroad.
Promoting domestic tourism will also be a top priority, Mr. Yuthasak said, especially for students and senior citizens. He said new ways would be found to promote domestic travel not just during school-holidays and weekends but during weekdays, all-year.
“I likes watching movies. Some of you may have seen the movie ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. I see the TAT as a Guardian of Thai Tourism,” Mr. Yuthasak said.
He said he was aware of the concerns that he was an “outsider” – meaning that he had come from outside of both the TAT and the tourism industry. However, he said he would be working to boost the efficiency of TAT internal processes in order to make them more efficient and effective. Creating a cadre of more productive and results-oriented personnel would help pave the way for the next TAT Governor to again be appointed from within after his term ends, he said.
However, appointing “outsiders” is now the norm in Thai tourism. For the first time, the heads of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the TAT, Thai Airways International and the Thailand Exhibition & Convention Bureau are all from “outside” the industry. They are now part of a core new team of senior officials responsible for guiding the transition of Thai tourism into a new era.
The Ministry of Tourism and Sports has its first woman minister, a well-respected Thai businesswoman, Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, who is winning kudos for her management. The Ministry’s former Permanent Secretary has been shifted over corruption allegations and replaced by another technocrat, Dr. Areepong Bhoocha-Oom, a graduate of Harvard and Boston University who came from the Ministry of Finance. He had a long career in government service, including Chairman of the Strategy & Transformation Committee and Risk Management Committee, at Thai Airways International.
As of late 2014, Thai Airways, too, got a new President, Mr. Charamporn Jotikasathira, who is a former President of the Stock Exchange of Thailand. The President of TCEB, Mr. Nopparat Maythaveekulchai, appointed in 2013, has an engineering background and came from another state-enterprise, the Telephone Organisation of Thailand.
Coordination between these “outsiders” and the respective institutions they lead will now hold the key to the future of Thai tourism in an increasingly challenging, complex and competitive operating environment, within Thailand, ASEAN, the Asia-Pacific region and the world at large.
BIODATA OF TAT GOVERNOR YUTHASAK SUPASORN
Date of birth: 8 January 1966
Place of birth: Roi Et, Thailand
Marital status: Married
1996 Keio University (Japan): The doctoral program of the school of Economics (Major: Economics)
1991 Keio University (Japan) Graduate School of Economics – Economic Policy
1987 Chulalongkorn University, Bachelor of Economics (2nd Class Honors) – Quantitative Economics
1984 Bangkok Christian College
January-July 2015: Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer MCOT Public Company Limited
2012-2014: Senior Advisor, Regional Development Center, Institute for Good Governance Promotion Office of the Public Sector Development Commission
2009-2012: Director General, Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, Ministry of Industry
2007-2009: President, National Food Institute, Ministry of Industry
2004-2006: Executive Vice President, National Food Institute, Ministry of Industry
2002-2004: Policy and Planning Analyst, Office of National Economic and Social Development Board
1996-2002: Investment Promotion Officer Office of the Board of Investment
Pictures of the welcoming ceremony for Mr Yuthasak and his media briefing