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    Lifestyle Curators for Thailand + Southeast Asia

    Unseen Thailand

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    Plagued by political unrest, military coups, and a drop in tourism, the newly-appointed minister of Tourism and Sports has taken on the monumental task of ensuring safety, promoting new destinations, and revitalizing traditional Thai ways. Meet minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul.

    by Tuptim Malakul Lane

    Appointed Minister for Tourism and Sports in September 2014 by the newly formed cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Her Excellency Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul is well-known as a powerful woman through her success of managing the family’s business, Toshiba Thailand, as their CEO. With it, she brings a new look into Thai tourism and sports.

    Married to a high-ranking police major general, Choonasith Wattanavrangkul, Minister Kobkarn has two children and, since her appointment, her sister has taken the reigns of handling Toshiba Thailand. In her capacity as Minister of Tourism and Sports, it has been a challenging time to reverse the decline in tourism due to political turmoil; she explained her short- and long-term goals that span a range of plans in a newly defined roadmap.

    Before she tackled any of the prepared questions, she wanted to reiterate safety precautions now in effect for traveling in Thailand. Minister Kobkarn said, “Safety for tourists is the number one priority, and ‘Do and Don’t’ manuals are provided for tourists at Suvarnabhumi Airport.” Just as she took up her ministerial position, the key objective being in resurrecting the country’s tourism, the country was again shaken by the murder of two British tourists in Koh Tao. Perception and reality can be key opposites so the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) activated a reverse psychology media strategy and produced the YouTube “I Hate Thailand” video about a fictional British tourist who is angry after losing his bag on a beach in Thailand, but ends up getting everything back. This video drew more than one million views within days of being posted.

    Still on safety measures, as 2015 approaches, the ministry will be issuing to beach resorts new lifejackets that propel the body to float face-up. “This has gradually been supplied for use,” said the minister. Safety bracelets with tourists’ IDs have also been implemented. “When tourists check-in to a hotel, they will be given a wristband with a serial number that matches their ID and shows the contact details of the resort they are staying [at] in case they’re out partying late and, for example, get drunk or lost, they can be easily assisted,” she added.

    The start of 2015 plays an important year for Thailand as the country emerges into the AEC. Ready or not, many neighboring countries will join forces in promoting their respective countries. “For instance, Malaysia together with Thailand are promoting Two Kingdoms – One Destination,” said the minister. Finding new destinations within Thailand will help to lessen the image of sex and drugs and more on traditional Thai ways.

    The twelve unseen Thai destinations are what minister Kobkarn is talking about. Launching these in the first three months of the 2015, she sites “Nan” as an example to invite tourists to be a part of Thai traditions, touring Thailand in the Thai way. “It is about presenting our rich culture, the Thai lifestyle of going to the temple, of visiting caves and mountains, learning about old art and new modern art. The pace would be slower; a bicycling town, Nan is accessible from Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai,” she explained.

    In the world sports arena, chairman of the Olympic Council of Asia, sheik Fahad Al-Sabah, who visited Thailand early in November 2014, held talks with minister Kobkarn regarding the push for Muay Thai to be represented in the Asian Games. Singapore has its F1 Grand Prix and Malaysia its Motorcycle Grand Prix; the suggestion of Bangkok having one is subject to various oppositions from the private sector.

    Addressing long-range plans to be completed before the February 2016 election, Minister Kobkarn has begun reform of the ministry using applied science to tourism and sports in a draft plan for 2020. This includes Sport for Excellence, Sport for All, Sport for Unity, and Sport for Tourism.

    Another aspect of her challenging portfolio is medical tourism. Whereas most tourists aim to stay out of the hospital while on holiday, there are a growing number of medical tourists, and Thailand has become an international medical travel destination for patients seeking world-class treatment at competitive rates. “We are the number one destination in medical tourism in Asia,” she said, “our hospitals are efficient and the Ministry of Health hopes to bring the price more affordable for all.”

    Her charming, classy determination, her honest approach, and her love of her country were more than evident—it would be hard to object to any of her reforms, plans, or even change of pace for the ministry.