Tributes pour in for passing of travel doyen Alwin Zecha

Industry veteran Alwin Zecha passed away from cardiac arrest early this morning in Bangkok, after dedicating more than 50 years to the Asian travel and tourism sector.

As the founder of the Pacific Leisure Group, established in 1961 in Hong Kong, Zecha together with Eckard Kremer together built up a network of offices across the globe and quickly gained a reputation as one of the leading DMCs worldwide.

Zecha had been instrumental to the development of the ASEAN travel and tourism sector through his close involvement with PATA. He was named PATA Life Member in 1989 and was also recognised as a Friend of Thailand, among many other industry accolades he achieved during his lifetime.

“I was truly saddened by the passing of Alwin Zecha; he was a friend and a mentor to me in my journey with PATA. Alwin was one of PATA’s most loyal member and dedicated a life time to the organisation,” said PATA CEO Mario Hardy. “We will greatly miss him and on behalf of all PATA staff, board members and members send our sincere condolences to his family and friends.”

Wong Soon Hwa, chairman of PATA Singapore Chapter, says Zecha’s passing is big loss to the industry and PATA.

“He was a small sized man with huge stature and a distinctive voice of authority. He will be fondly remembered for speaking his mind and always having the industry’s and PATA’s interests at heart. To me, this is a loss of a mentor and dear friend. We will miss you sir,” said Wong.

Tunku Iskandar Tunku Abdullah, group executive chairman of Melewar Group, has also taken to Facebook to mourn the passing of a “mentor, travel and tourism doyen”.

He also told TTG Asia: “Alwin has touched so many people in the travel and tourism industry of the Pacific Asia region, including myself. He selflessly shared his experience and knowledge, and for me he was not only a business partner but also a mentor and a friend who led by example. He will be very much missed by all who knew him well, including those in PATA and Skal.”

Travel leaders recount a formidable leader who was led the early days of tourism development in South-east Asia, way before the region became a hot tourist destination it is today.

Narzalina Lim, former secretary, Department of Tourism (DoT) Philippines, said: “Alwin was not a very tall man but he was a towering figure in the tourism industry. Through his leadership skills, charisma, and the sheer force of his personality, he brought the attention of the world to tourism in Asia as early as the 1970s – and the world took notice.

“Alwin was a good friend of the Philippines. I first met him 33 years ago when I hosted dinner for him and his board members from the Pacific Leisure Group. They had come to hold their meeting in Manila, curious about the newly-installed presidency of Corazon Aquino and the new team at the DoT. Alas, the first of many coup attempts against Aquino’s government happened the day of the dinner. Alwin, the fighter and brave soul that he was, could not be deterred. He and his colleagues showed up in full force and we dined merrily away at the Coconut Palace.

Lim continued: “Alwin gave us words of encouragement, assuring us that we could put the Philippines back in the tourism map. He never stopped encouraging us and gave us every opportunity, through PATA to host many events to keep a high profile in the tourism world. We owe him a lot and we will miss him.”

Wuryatuti Sunario, Indonesia Care Tourism member and former executive director of Indonesia Tourism Promotion Board, said: “Alwin cared a lot and helped the tourism industry in Indonesia. He inspired Indonesia’s tourism through his lectures and workshops. As a PATA leader, he always supported Indonesia’s bid to host PATA Conferences. Alwin never ceased loving Indonesia. He was a great friend of all of us in the industry and in government, he was active in advancing Indonesia’s Tourism. Thank you Alwin and we sorely miss you.”

Industry veterans also recalled fondly of having been under Zecha’s wings in the early days of their career.

Edmund Tsang, vice chairman of Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents (HATA) and consultant of Connexus Travel, is full of respect for Zecha. “I had modelled on him as my mentor, especially during his days as the HATA chairman from 1974-1976 to learn more from him about methodology to plot analytics, and also his meticulous skills in public speaking, while I was just a young executive committee member of HATA then.”

Elly Hutabarat: president director of Pantravel Indonesia and PATA board member, commented: “Alwin has introduced me to PATA more than 20 years ago and he continued ‘lecturing’ me about this great organisation since then. I and anyone of us in the tourism industry will miss him tremendously. Goodbye my brother, have a great journey back home. We will always remember and love you.”

Mary Wan Mering, director corporate services at Sarawak Tourism Board, added: “Alwin Zecha was such a great leader indeed. I was very lucky to have been a protégé under his mentorship on tourism development at the University of Hawaii Manoa. I remember him as a practical tourism man with valuable knowledge.”

The legendary Zecha was clearly remembered by his tireless contributions to the travel industry during his long-spanning career.

Said Meity Robot, owner of IWATA Travel and former chairman of PATA Indonesia Chapter: “Alwin was always ready to support the industry. When I was chair of PATA Indonesia Chapter and Alwin was then board member of PATA, he came to Indonesia and gave his educational speeches to our members about tourism and its development in the region.”

Ally Bhoonee, executive director, World Avenues Travel & WA Hospitality, added: “I remember Alwin as a marketing and sales guru who in the early 90s was training young future leaders on sales and marketing. Until today, I remember the presentation he gave in Kuala Lumpur on sales and marketing on boutique resorts, and I was very much impressed and found it very relevant at the time. He has contributed a lot to the hospitality and tourism industry and he will be greatly missed.”

Anthony Wong, group managing director, Asian Overland Services Tourism & Hospitality Group, calls Zecha an “amazing” figure who will be dearly missed. “He was very knowledgeable, full of energy, always with a joke and cheerful all the time. He was indeed a rare character.”

Darren Ng, managing director of TTG Asia Media, said: “Alwin was a travel professional in the true sense, a pioneer who shaped the Asian travel industry to what it is today.”

Michael Chow, former publisher at TTG Asia Media, expressed his condolences of the passing of an industry guru. “I was privileged & fortunate to meet Alwin in several travel industry events, and he always had the time to have a brief but enjoyable and meaningful conversations. Alwin was truly a champion of the travel & tourism industry in Asia, offering very intelligent and insightful advice.”

Vice minister of education and culture (2011-2014), Wiendu Nuryanti, who is now director for the doctorate programme at the Department of Architecture and Planning, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, shared: “We have lost another giant statesman who always fought for the benefit of so many parts of Asia, especially Indonesia. Dear Alwin is forever an inspiration for us, the tourism community in Indonesia. He was not only such a warm and open person, but also his endless dedication to better tourism for all is unquestionable. May dearest Alwin rest in everlasting peace.”

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