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Who could be the next tourism minister?

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Jul 11, 2011

BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) - With new incoming Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to soon announce her cabinet, there is plenty of speculation in Bangkok tourism circles on the future Minister in charge of the tourism portfolio. Tourism represents one of the most strategic activities for the kingdom’s economy, with a Ministry generally dotted with a considerable budget, around THB 5 billion (US$164 million). After the lackluster outgoing Minister of Tourism Chumpol Silpa-Archa, conjecture abounds on whom should next be in charge of the tourism portfolio. The Ministry was in the hands of the Chart Thai Pattana party. Despite the mediocre performance of Mr. Silpa-Archa, the party (which indeed swiftly dropped its coalition partner, the losing Democrat party, to wed with Mrs. Shinawatra winning Pheu Thai) would love to retain this portfolio.

According to The Nation newspaper from a few days ago, Chart Thai Pattana promised that it would foster the development of human resources, work on the suppression of tourist scams, crackdown on unofficial tourist guides, and improve airport services. Interestingly, the dull Mr. Silpa-Archa did not really implement all of those promises during his last tenure at the Ministry. The name circulating for Chart Thai Pattana was the previous Deputy Minister for Finance, Pradit Phataraprasit. Another likely candidate for the post is Plodprasop Surasawadee, the current Deputy Chief of Pheu Thai and a former Chairman of the Chiang Mai night safari zoo committee. Promises made by Pheu Thai for tourism include figures in the rise of total tourist arrivals from 16 to 30 million people within a decade; the construction of new convention centers in provinces, and the push of Koh Chang as a high-quality destination, as well as promoting Pattaya as a new tourism hub.

Talking about Pattaya, there is another name circulating among tourism professionals: Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Khunpluem, a young good-looking guy, who would probably be the most qualified to implement a consistant tourism policy, as he is deeply involved on a daily basis with this economic sector in his city, except that the name of Pattaya might not be the best ambassador to promote tourism on the international stage. Despite constant efforts from both the city administration and tourism officials to clean up Pattaya's seedy image and despite the recent opening of a string of luxurious resorts, the holiday destination remains better known by world visitors for its sleazy nightlife than for its clean beaches, pristine islets, or premium shopping outlets.

Whoever will turn into the new Minister of tourism, s/he will already have to deal with the first opposition by tourism professionals to the project of increasing the minimum wage to THB 300 per day. Many tour operators complain that it might increase their expenses by as much as 50% compared to a current average of THB 160 to 220 per day.

Tourism operators say they will suffer and their expenses will rise by as much as 50% if they have to raise minimum wages to 300 baht a day in January. The promise by Pheu Thai to also raise starting salaries for young people holding a degree from less than THB 10,000 to THB 15,000 per month is further worrying the tourism industry.

Who could be the next tourism minister?

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