BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) – As Thailand prepares to welcome its annual incoming tourism show, Thailand Travel Mart (TTM), Thai Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat gives his perspective on the kingdom’s tourism evolution.

eTN: Does tourism remain a priority for the current government?
Minister Weerasak Kowsurat: Tourism is a top priority for our government as we always know that investing in tourism activities will always return huge benefits to the country. And when I speak about “benefits”, I do not only mean financial ones. Tourism is also able to help people to improve their skills by learning how to deliver a better service or a better management of human and environment resources. To provide the best for our foreign guests is also a way to improve ourselves. Tourism remains then the best tool to provide a fair income to anyone in our country.

eTN: Concretely, what is the budget for the Tourism Authority of Thailand for this year?
Weerasak Kowsurat: We provide this year a budget of THB 500 million (US$ 16.2 million) just for TAT marketing purposes.

eTN: You recently announced the development of Thailand’s Royal Coast project, previously dubbed as Thailand’s Riviera”. Will Thailand avoid repeating some of its mistakes during the development of other resort areas?
Weerasak Kowsurat: Despite speculation regarding an economic slowdown in Thailand over the past year, there is still a steady increase in demand for hotel and resort accommodation and holiday homes. With the development of the “Royal Coast” along the Gulf of Thailand from Chanthaburi to Pattaya, Hua Hin and up to Samut Prakan near Bangkok, we want to offer an impressive scheme for mega-investments in the tourism field. However, I am conscious that those developments should follow strict guidelines to preserve our environment and natural resources. I already talked to the Board of Investments to facilitate investments in environment-friendly or sustainable projects. Maybe even with some tax-breaks. The Royal Coast must be a model for our future tourism development by creating high quality products with a sense of preservation for the environment.

eTN: Projects of developing convention centres at both Chiang Mai and Phuket have been discussed for now many years. Are you committed to finally give the green light to those projects?
Weerasak Kowsurat: For Chiang Mai, I can announce you that we know finalize the last details. Our government is indeed very well prepared to do the investment and get the approval from the Ministry of Finance. Chiang Mai really need a large convention centre and the government is very aware of the benefits the city would get for such a facility. In Phuket, I know that many private investors are ready to invest into a convention centre and we entirely support their initiative. I also asked the Ministry of Finance to look again at the feasibility of such a project and hope that we could get the green light on it.

eTN: More Thai cities and provinces do their own tourism marketing and promotion. Do you encourage this trend?
Weerasak Kowsurat: I am not against any initiative to promote tourism to Thailand by other bodies than TAT as it will benefit to local population and to the country. However, I still believe that TAT is an essential tool to our development: we do not look to one area only but try to promote our entire country and expose it in its complete diversity… This is indeed the role of the central government.