Thailand’s Cabinet reshuffle on November 24 sees the return of former minister of tourism and sports, Weerasak Kowsurat, to the role, replacing Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul who held the post for three years.
Weerasak was also chairman of the Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau.
In general his appointment received positive nods from economic analysts who referred to his experience with the tourism and MICE industries as a big plus. However, sentiments showed that Kobkarn would be sorely missed.
“Great pity. She stood head and shoulders above most ministers of tourism in the region. She had a passion and knowledge of her subject that really set her apart. Plus she was so easy to engage, happy to take on board criticism as well as platitudes, and gave the impression she listened,” said David Kevan, a director at Chic Locations based in London.
Kobkarn’s last public trade appearance was at the World Travel Market, her fourth, during which she recapped a few of the key achievements of Thai tourism industry this year. This included the successful hosting of WTTC in April, and the recognition that sustainable tourism development was needed for the country.
“The good news is that the number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand rose nearly nine per cent to 32.6 million in 2016, bringing in 1.64 trillion baht worth of business, up nearly 13 per cent from 2015. Those are undoubtedly impressive figures and ones that give me, as minister for tourism and sports, enormous satisfaction because it reflects consumer confidence in our products, services and most important, our people.
“On the other hand, we have to accept that this growth is putting enormous pressure on our infrastructure and our environment. This is what will be at the forefront of our tourism development agenda in future,” she said.
Thailand 4.0 national development strategy would focus on health and wellness, food and agriculture, smart devices and robotics, digital technology and the Internet of Things, and creative, culture and high-value services.
“To complement the government’s vision of Thailand 4.0, we need to strike a balance on three fronts. Of course, we aim to maintain the growth in tourist numbers and revenue. At the same time, we need to ensure that our product remains worth buying across all fronts. This means preserving our heritage, ensuring safety and security, protecting the environment and much more. Visitors do not want to come to Thailand to experience rubbish-strewn beaches and burned-out forests that have been harvested by villagers who have not benefited from the tourism windfall,” she had said.