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29 Oct, 2020

The Best Speech I Ever Wrote for the Thai Minister of Tourism and Sports

Between 1995-2020, a full 25 years, I did a voluminous amount of contract work for the Tourism Authority of Thailand, including writing nearly all the speeches for their senior executives at major events such as the ITB Berlin, World Travel Market, Arabian Travel Market, etc. Looking back, the best speech I ever wrote was for Mr. Chumpol Silpa-archa, the late Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Tourism and Sports, which he delivered verbatim as written on Sept 10, 2012, at the inaugural Global Tourism Economy Forum in Macau. I am proud that every word is proving true in the context of current local, regional and global events.


Managing Tourism in an Era of Constant Change and Instability

“How Travel and Tourism can lead to Sustainability and Employment?”

H.E. Mr. Chumpol Silpa-archa, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Tourism and Sports, Thailand

Keynote Speaker, Global Tourism Economy Forum, Macau, Sept 10, 2012

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good afternoon and Sawasdee khrap

On behalf of Thai tourism industry, it is indeed a pleasure to address the 1st Global Tourism Economy Forum. Thailand is honoured to be invited to this high level discussion platform for country leaders, business and industry experts and academics on issues in relation to the development of the travel and tourism and related industries and their impacts and contributions to economic development.

I would also like to compliment the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACFIC) and the Tourism Chamber of ACFIC for initiating this Forum and the Government of Macau Special Administration Region, the Liaison Office of the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China in Macau and China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) for their support. I am sure the presentations and discussions that take place here will go a long way towards shaping the future of travel & tourism well into this decade.

Distinguished participants,

In his letter of invitation, Forum Chairman Mr. Edmund Ho asked me to share Thailand’s experience in tourism development. He referred to Thailand as one of the most successful tourism countries in Asia. I thank him for the compliment. However, I would be the first to admit that although Thailand has set new benchmarks in the marketing of travel & tourism, we now face some unique challenges in dealing with issues of sustainability and instability. We have done many things right and some things perhaps not so right. In today’s era of globalisation and inter-connectivity, I believe we can learn a lot from each other. Such frank and forthright sharing of experiences can lead to a positive outcome for all of us and help meet the objectives of this august gathering.

Travel & tourism has been one of our most successful economic sectors over the last 50 years. While agriculture remains our bedrock and manufacturing/industry faces extensive competitive pressure from countries such as China, travel & tourism is our top service sector. It is our huge competitive advantage and has worked wonders for job creation, distribution of income and preservation of heritage and culture.

The numbers speak for themselves. International Visitor Arrivals to Thailand in 2011, totalled 19,230,470, up 20.67% over 2011. This was in spite of the devastating floods that hit a number of our main central region provinces, especially in September-October 2011. This growth continued during Jan-Jul 2012 when visitor arrivals totalled 12,431,579, up 8.34% over the same period of 2011. This year, if the world geopolitical situation remains stable, the visitor numbers will cross the 20 million mark.

This performance is all the more remarkable because Thailand has been hit by just about every kind of natural disaster and man-made crisis possible over the last 15 years. Starting from the 1997 economic crisis, we have been hit by international geopolitical problems such as the 2001 attacks in the U.S., health issues such as SARS, natural disasters such as the tsunami and flooding, local political disturbances and now the downturn in the global economy and the Eurozone crisis. But we have always been able to bounce back. To tell you how we do this would take another hour or more. Instead, I will focus on what lessons we have learnt, in line with the theme of this forum, and how we can all generate win-win benefits.

Distinguished participants,

Sustainability and job creation are now the two key areas of focus for us all. We have to do this in an era of unprecedented change, in terms of both speed and scope. For political leaders such as myself, as well as business leaders, academics, the media and other decision-makers and decision-influencers, juggling all these balls will require some major changes in decision-making parameters. This is because the drivers of decision-making have changed.

My most important submission to this august forum is that in planning ahead, we need to venture out of our traditional comfort zones and confront the challenges of change from a totally new and different perspective. There is no doubt that we as an industry have proven to be very successful in achieving our objectives. We have generated growth. We have created jobs. We have facilitated economic development. We have helped poverty alleviation. We have helped highlight the value of culture and heritage.

So, when my friend Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organisation, forecasts that travel & tourism will generate one billion international visitor arrivals this year, and probably more than twice as many domestic arrivals, we can take great pride in the fact that we have done many things right. We can take great pride in being successful. However, although it is widely said that nothing succeeds like success, I think it is also important to note that success generates a whole new set of challenges which, if not managed properly, can quickly convert success into failure. Hence, the key is to maintain that level of success and prevent it from backsliding.

This is where the theme of this forum and the topic of my talk assumes some importance. And my submission to you all industry leaders today is not an answer, but a question, in fact, several questions:

1) Are we in danger of becoming the victims these forces of change?

2) Do we have the decision-making capabilities to deal with the forces of change?

3) Can we an industry learn to start influencing change rather than being influenced by it?

4) Do we need to provide more space to dialogue with those who impact our industry, both externally and internally?

5) Finally, do we need to start discuss new ways of managing change?

I do not have time to discuss all the points, but I would like to focus only on the last one – the search for new ways of managing change.

The most important dynamic now in motion is a restoration of balance. This is the essence of the new emerging world order. For us in travel & tourism, this restoration of balance is between the economic and ecological factors, in other words, sustainability. I would argue that in pursuing this balance, we need to look inwards, within ourselves, within the wisdom, guidance and philosophies of Asia. After all, if the value of Yoga, Ayurveda and meditation are being realised in achieving the ‘holistic’ benefits of health and wellness, we also need to apply the same kind of philosophies in achieving balance and sustainability.

Let me tell you just a little bit about one philosophy of balance whose time is coming: the Sufficiency Economy created by His Majesty the King of Thailand.

The concept of the Sufficiency Economy was first presented by His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej in his Birthday address on 4 December 1997, the year Thailand became the first victim of the Asian economic crisis. Since then, it has received growing attention by economists, development specialists as well as international institutions.

The Sufficiency Economy is not meant to be a full-fledged economic model of development. It does not include any quantitative models, fancy graphs, or econometric estimations. It combines neatly distilled insights from the development experience of Thailand, particularly in the agricultural sector, with some fundamental values in Buddhist philosophy. The philosophy stands out in its simplicity. Indeed, this simplicity has led some commentators to dismiss the concept as mere common sense or unhelpful. However, simplicity is a virtue. Some of the most powerful concepts in science are simple. Indeed, we are now finding out that complex models that were used by financial institutions in recent years were themselves little more than cover for some very simple ideas. In practice, these ideas have led to shattered lives in communities across the world and must be put aside if we are to build more inclusive and sustainable economies in the future.

It is strongly influenced by the experience and lessons of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/98, which exposed the consequences of financial excesses and exuberance. I would argue that it is because the world did not learn the lessons of the Asian financial crisis that we are today facing a very similar, yet much bigger, global financial crisis, which has had a disastrous impact on economies and livelihoods across the globe and also thrown into question much of the accepted wisdom in economics.

Can Sufficiency Economy be applicable to tourism. Most certainly so, and I think the time has come to start doing so. Indeed, in May 2006, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, awarded King Bhumibol the UN Development Programme’s First Human Development Lifetime Achievement

Further details about the Sufficiency Economy philosophy is widely available on the Internet. I urge you all to look seriously at ways of incorporating them into your development and sustainability agendas.

Distinguished participants,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Now to the second and final part of my talk – job creation.

In this area, too, the most important emerging factor is the concept of balance – the balance between hardware and software. Over the last 30 years of tourism development, change was almost entirely hardware-driven. Billions of dollars were poured into hardware – hotels, airports, convention centres, casinos and much more. But eventually all hardware is useless without software. It boils down to management, but a different kind of management, the management of people.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the world needs to create 600 million new jobs over the next decade to sustain economic growth. The ILO says that one job created in tourism creates one and a half additional jobs in the tourism-related economy. In Thailand, tourism employs over 4 million people in direct and indirect jobs. About 70% of the tourism revenue benefits hospitality and tourism-related businesses outside Bangkok. This helps create more tourism-related jobs and disseminate revenue to local people by boosting investment in rural areas as well as assisting thousands of Thai Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) which are the backbone of the country’s economy.

As a policy-maker, job-creation is my top priority. Today, however, I am less worried about job creation and more about job preservation. So, in dealing with the challenge of change and meeting the policy objective of preserving jobs, I need detailed answers for some key questions such as:

– How are global crises affecting industry jobs, especially in travel & tourism?

– Do we as an industry provide good opportunities to attract and retain young people?

– If we do not, how should we fix it?

– A common complaint is that our training institutions are not producing quality people. If that is true, why are they not doing so? And what can we do about it?

An important point to consider here is that the industry jobs are being affected not by problems within the industry but by external factors, such as economic crises, geopolitical problems, natural disasters. So again, we need to find ways of shielding our industry from these problems. That is one reason why many countries in the world are turning to domestic tourism, also within the framework of balance. Too much exposure to international tourism can, and does, create problems with external problems strike.


In this brief talk, I have tried to offer some alternative perspectives on issues and raise some important questions. You all look to us in the political arena for answers and leadership, but we can only lead and set in motion the right policy directions if we are provided with good, thought-provoking data and information on which to make decisions. What we need to do as an industry is to look at the track record of what we have achieved over the past four to five decades, establish what has worked and what has not worked, what we can learn from and what we can do to make sure that the wins outnumber the losses in future.

Only then, will we get a more reliable roadmap for the future and a better buy-in by all stakeholders, including the private sector, the many government agencies that provide us with regulatory and infrastructure support, civil society, trades unions, academics, the media and many more sectors. That will be good for both sustainability and jobs.

Buddhist philosophy says that the only permanent is the state of impermanence. Change is always a challenge. But challenges are good for the system. We just have to rise to the challenge.

I hope I have provided you with some food for thought and set the stage for a change in direction in the way we think about, and plan for, the future.

Once more, thank you to the organisers for inviting me here today, and thank you all for your time and interest.