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Meet Thailand’s New Tourism Governor

Her Vision, and the Road to Recovery


Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand

When Thailand “officially” opened its gate to the world, inviting foreigners to see its beauty and fall in love with it under the ‘Visit Thailand Year’ campaign, the Land of Smiles is no longer known as a small, unspoiled Southeast Asian country. It is now known as the land of Sun, Sea, Sand, where the beaches and forests are among the most picturesque in the world.

The tough period had passed and now, Thailand is back to the tourism scene, ready to welcome visitors who could not wait to satisfy their wanderlust. However, what the pandemic brought to the world isn’t only a reminder that we cannot put all your eggs in one basket, but a brand-new way of living that spans from a simple daily routine to our shopping and traveling.

The new generation of tourists are no longer satisfied with traveling the old way but prefer to immerse themselves in that place for as much and as long as possible to have a travel experience like the locals as well as with the locals.

That’s more or less the kind of challenges which awaits Ms Thapanee Kiatphaibool, the new Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, who took up the post in September.

Having been with the TAT since 1999 after earning a master’s degree in science from the University of Surrey in the UK, Ms Thapanee has led TAT’s several successful campaigns. In her most recent roles as TAT Deputy Governor for Domestic Marketing, she was among the leading forces to introduce new tourism markets in Thailand including the workcation, faith and religious tourisms, and solo travels. The niche market helped stimulate 151.45 million domestic trips in 2022 – about 88% of the record year in 2019.

What do you want to promote the most now that you are in this position?

First of all, we want to be the leading force in driving tourism marketing. In the fast-paced world, many unexpected things happen. TAT must be able to respond to everchanging changes seamlessly and effectively. We’ve come up with the PASS strategy which can be broken down like this.

P for Partnership 360 degrees, working with all stakeholders. We’re going to find new partners who have direct expertise in the issue we’d like to promote. For example, if you want to work on a business project, you go to Board of Investment, right? But if you want to launch a new market, you will find an expert on that specific issue.

A for Accelerate Access to Digital World. We need to speed up the use of technology to strengthen the tourism industry in all aspects and at all levels. We can use digital technology to merge the issue both online and offline to create more impact in our campaigns.

S for Sub-subculture movement. This niche group has very high potential and growing rapidly although the size is small, they spend a lot of money. When they leave positive comments or reviews on the online community, they can attract interest from like-minded people together to visit the place too. For example, there will be a group of visitors who particularly enjoy foods. Then some of them might prefer Thai cuisine more than others; they are considered a niche market. Within the niche group, there is this group who would look for Michelin-starred eateries only whether it’s street foods or high-end restaurants.

S for Sustainability. TAT needs to work with other agencies and organizations including private businesses to create sustainable tourism. Today, you can’t ignore sustainability and environment conservation because they’re global issues. More tourists also take this into consideration when booking a ticket and accommodation.

Thailand’s tourism campaigns have been so successful that the tourism industry is one of the country’s top income earners. However, this puts Thailand in a vulnerable position when its reliance on tourism incomes is very high. Is there anything we can do to ensure its sustainability while preventing the country from the over-dependence?

We can’t deny that tourism is a major driver in the nation’s economic growth. The government places tourism as the main instrument to restore our economy as quickly as possible. While it’s essential to create balance of revenues from other industries and sectors, it takes time because the country needs to develop basic infrastructure, technology, and people first. For now, tourism will have to remain the country’s main cog in moving the country forward.

And although there’re several factors which affect tourism revenues and the number of tourists, there’s nothing to worry about. As long as we take the industry to the next level by focusing on balance and sustainability, Thailand can achieve tourism security. Once we’re there, we will make a quick recovery when something happens. What I mean by ‘creating balance’ also structural reform that looks for quality and value, instead of quantity only.

There’s another thing that we’re paying more attention to: creating demand. We want to see more quality tourists coming to Thailand. It’s about value over volume. We also plan to boost domestic market and promote sustainable and responsible tourism more actively.

Of course, to achieve that, Thailand needs to lean toward experience-based tourism more. In this case, technology will become an important tool in reaching this group.

The full version is available in the 5000s magazine issue 54. Subscribe Now.