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 April 22, 2001
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Gives Full Backing To Tourism

 The Thai travel and tourism industry has received a major shot in the arm via a high-level meeting chaired personally by the Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to identify and eliminate obstacles to the rapid advancement of the industry.

Accompanying the Prime Minister to the meeting in Chiang Mai on April 20-21 were two Deputy Prime Ministers as well as the ministers of Finance, Commerce, Tourism and Transport/Communications. The permanent secretaries of the various ministries and directors-general of the Forestry Department, Customs Department and several other agencies were also present.

It was the highest level gathering ever convened in the history of Thai tourism and led to a constructive discussion with equally senior representatives of the private sector on issues ranging broadly from aviation traffic rights and visas-on-arrival to the promotion of conventions and improved facilities at the national parks. A total of 13 ministries were among the 160 public and private sector groupings which participated.

A well-researched report produced by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) identifying the issues and suggesting solutions comprised the background of the meeting. TAT Governor Pradech Phayakvichien opened the meeting by presenting an overview and analysis of industry trends, its future development and promotion plans and various strategies to take tourism to greater heights.

The PM made it clear that he recognised tourism for its potential in generating jobs, creating foreign exchange income as well as an engine of growth for the national economy. He also stressed that he did not want this meeting to be a mere 'talk-shop', and set clear deadlines for the problem-solving initiatives to produce results.

"It is clear that Thailand has all the necessary assets to be a world-class tourism destination," the Prime Minister said, "Clearly, what we need now is to make maximum effort to improve our management abilities, overcome obstacles and set some clear strategies to tackle these issues in a specific period of time."

The Prime Minister responded immediately to many of the initiatives and sought to identify clear paths to fix the problems.

One major initiative is the assignment of the TAT to start a major upgrade of several tourist spots nation- wide. The Prime Minister has authorised the TAT to identify the spots and research the required management and infrastructure facilities in preparation for them to be marketed globally.

Another initiative is the strong support to be given to Phuket and Chiang Mai to be developed as duty-free ports. The Transport and Communications Ministry has also been instructed to start finding ways to boost air-traffic to the northern capital of Chiang Mai. The Interior Ministry has been instructed to liaise with local authorities to speed up construction of water- treatment and garbage disposal facilities at tourist spots nation-wide.

Even the Thai military offered to open its many bases and training camps, which are located in densely forested areas, for nature treks and bird-watching expeditions.

A major benefit of the meeting was that it gave an opportunity for people from all over the country, and especially all the various stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry, to engage in a positive dialogue about their own role in the industry, what problems they face and the help they need from other groupings.

The following are among the tourism product development plans suggested by the Prime Minister that will be the focus of follow-up work in the months to come:

1. Clearly identity tourism products and classify them according to types of destinations such as natural attractions, historical and religious sites as well as cultural and arts destinations.

2. Pursue the development and management of tourism products according to types of tourist destinations by setting up specialist sub-committees to supervise Marine Tourist Destinations, National Parks, Historical Destinations and Arts and Cultural Tourism. TAT will function as the secretariat and the membership will comprise of representatives of various government and private sector organisations involved in each of these areas.

3. Identify outdated laws which are impeding tourism promotion and development and suggest appropriate changes.

4. Promote development of man-made tourism destinations and related infrastructures and facilities by granting special investment privileges.

5. Increase revenue in major destinations especially Phuket and Chiang Mai which will be developed as duty-free cities to promote shopping.

6. Strengthen measures to enhance tourist safety and security.

The Prime Minister has set a three-month deadline for the first follow-up meeting to chart the progress on the various issues. It is envisaged that at least three such meetings will be held a year to ensure steady progress.