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15 Feb, 2017

Unwelcome in Europe, U.S.? Welcome to Thailand, former Foreign Minister tells global Muslims

Bangkok – Muslims having problems going to Europe and the United States will find a more welcoming environment in Muslim-friendly Thailand, former Thai Foreign Minister Dr Surin Pitsuwan said last week.

Speaking at the official opening of Al Meroz hotel on Feb 11, Thailand’s largest and newest four-star halal-friendly property, the Harvard-educated Dr Surin said that Muslim travellers to Thailand, such as from the Gulf countries, have been rising for some years now, and the opening of halal-friendly hotels such as the Al Meroz would further boost that trend.

Dr Surin Pitsuwan addressing the gathering.

Clearly referring to the controversial Muslim-ban executive order issued by the Trump Administration, since legally blocked, Dr Surin said, “Muslims are having a problem going to Europe, going to America. Al Meroz in Thailand will gain from the trend (of) denying entry to Muslim medical tourists, business tourists.”

The remarks by Thailand’s former top diplomat, himself a Muslim and former Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), underscored a diminishing threshold of worldwide tolerance for the blatant Islamophobic bias now going mainstream in the West.

Dr Surin’s comment sent a strong message that Muslim travellers worldwide can and will vote with their wallets when it comes to choosing their next travel destination.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand is promoting Thailand as a Muslim-friendly country as part of the national policy to advance the cause of inclusive socio-cultural development.

Also speaking at the opening ceremony of the Al Meroz was Thai Tourism and Sports Minister Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul who has just returned from Iran where she attended a major travel trade fair and visited a number of sports facilities and stadiums.

Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Mrs Kobkarn at the podium.

The large turnout at the opening ceremony.

Minister Kobkarn at the head table. Seated to her right (in bowtie) is the Al Meroz GM and Managing Director Mr Sanya Saengboon.

Indeed, one of the first official activities of Thailand’s new monarch, His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, after his ascension to the throne was a Dec 9, 2016, visit to the southern province of Krabi for the opening of a new City Hall. Krabi is a popular tourist resort in South Thailand with a large population of Thai Muslims and a vigorous campaign to position itself as Thailand’s leading Muslim-friendly province.

Dr Surin, who spent a number of years as a political intern in the U.S. Congress, said that the timing could not have been better for the opening of the Al Meroz and the niche-market it is targeting.

He noted that Thailand was proud of its multi-cultural character. When visitors head towards downtown Bangkok from Suvarnabhumi airport, Thailand’s main aviation gateway, they are greeted by the sight of two mosques along the highway.

When visitors go to the well-known Bumrungrad hospital, they often see Arabic-speaking Thai Muslims greeting the many medical tourists from the Middle East. When Thai Ambassadors get postings in many of the country’s diplomatic missions in the Arab world, they have to rely on many Arabic-speaking Thai Muslims who have studied in Middle Eastern universities, Dr Surin said.

The Al Meroz (which means Heritage in Arabic) is the brainchild of prominent Thai-Muslim businessman Mr. Rausak Mulsap, who, along with his partners and family members, has invested over 1 billion baht in the landmark project.

Although Bangkok has a number of other Muslim-owned and –operated properties such as the Nouvo City hotel, the Al Meroz is by far the most prominent.

“This is a unique hotel in the history of Thai tourism,” said Mr. Rausak. “It will play a major role in helping the TAT achieve its objective of better positioning Thailand as a Muslim-friendly destination.”

Hotel President and CEO Rausak Mulsap with Minister Kobkarn in front of an image of the hotel.

It will also help fulfil the over-arching mission and vision of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which is to build One Vision, One Identity, One Community.

Indeed, the cultural performances at the opening ceremony underscored this integration message. Dancers performed one number with a show of all the flags of the 10 ASEAN member nations. Also invited to the opening ceremony was the popular Malaysian singing troupe, Raihan.

ASEAN flags in full swing at one of the dance performances.

Also invited to perform was the popular Malaysian group Raihan.

Due to the integration of the ASEAN Community, especially the economic and socio-cultural blueprints, intra-regional travel amongst the 10 countries is expected to be a major growth area. Hence, Thailand can expect to see a lot more visitors from the neighbouring countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

Visitors from other Muslim-majority countries, such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East/Central Asian Republics are also expected to grow strongly. Many non-Muslim countries such as Japan, Korea and New Zealand are specifically targeting the Islamic market, and Thailand is doing the same.

Mr. Rausak said, “We are proud to be honouring the wish of His Majesty the King for all Thais of all ethnic and cultural origins to live together in peace and harmony. Roughly 60% of our staff are Thai-Muslims, and we are happy to be a source of jobs and income for so many young people.”

The hotel creates plenty of jobs for young people, especially women.

He added, “We are also proud to be an alcohol-free hotel. It is a myth to assume that all hotels must have bars and nightclubs. We receive guests from all parts of the world, including Europe, who want to try a different experience.”

The property actually has been operating since November 2015 and last year enjoyed an occupancy of 60%. It has a target occupancy of 82% this year.

The four-star hotel offers 3 outlets, one 1,200-seat convention centre, 6 smaller meeting rooms accommodating 30 to 500 participants, Bustan rooftop function room for up to 200 guests, a rooftop swimming pool, prayer room, gymnasium, etc.

Mr. Rausak said the Al Meroz will also help attract leisure and business travellers, as well as Meetings, Incentives and Convention delegates from the Islamic world.

It also has a unique location advantage that makes it easily accessible to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, the city’s expressway system and the Airport Rail-link station of Ramkhamhaeng.

Bookings can be made through travel agents, the online hotel booking services as well as the website www.almerozhotel.com.

For further information, please contact: info@almerozhotel.com

Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil was also one of the invited speakers.