Q&A with Krister Svensson on Thailand’s prospects

MIX: Much has been said about the negative perception brought about by the Bangkok street protests of late 2013 and early 2014. How far has confidence been restored?
KS: Business has certainly bounced back very strongly with guests starting to return since the last quarter of 2014. Occupancies are up, guest arrivals are up and business confidence is strong. We are performing better than our budgeted assumptions and have established strong foothold from key markets such as the US, China and Southeast Asia.

While business was not as usual [during the occupations], the troubles were restricted to a small area of Bangkok that was easily avoided by tourists. Contrary to popular belief, it was probably the safest time to visit the city during that period.

Bangkok still remains very safe – and even more so if you’re just passing through to the rest of the country which was pretty much wholly unaffected by the protests. In my opinion, the international media needs to spend more time reporting facts in an objective fashion rather than sensationalising every incident that occurs.

MIX: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is taking on a bigger role in the region with an economic community being set up. What prospects do you think this offers in terms of prospects for the meetings, incentive and business events industry in Thailand?
KS: The benefits from the Asean economic cooperation are enormous. First, the Asean economic zones will further stimulate regional cooperation, prioritising on the cooperation between the member countries in the areas of trade and business promotions.
Second, this heightened economic cooperation will drive better supply chain management, which will lead to a smoother movement of goods, services and investments. In terms of software, business travels will be eased allowing for a more seamless movement of talent, which will in turn elevate the sophistication of the hospitality and travel industry. In my opinion, this will also boost the language skills of the local talents.
Third, closer economic integration in the region will also result in a major increase in business travel and tourism, helped by the rapid growth of low-cost airlines. This would definitely benefit the MICE industry locally in Thailand, and in addition drive information exchange. TCEB (Thailand Convention & Exhibition Bureau) is working with all their strategic counterparts will also help to further propel Thailand’s MICE industry.
Overall, the economic community will drive the scale efficiencies, dynamism and competitiveness of each Asean member.

MIX: How serious are the offerings directed at business tourism such as conferences and incentives, not only in the capital but elsewhere in Thailand?
KS: Business tourism is an essential part of the travel industry and Bangkok is often regarded as the best valued destination with world class infrastructure for the most discerning and sophisticated travellers.

Each destination in Thailand, be it in the city or up in the mountains or the islands has its unique pull and attraction. And I think the country’s Tourism Authority does a fabulous job in promoting Thailand as whole where travel between the various local tourist attractions is smoothly facilitated by the efficient transportation system. Every player in the hospitality and travel industry including the shopping centres, tourism companies, hotels, all united in working together to push Thailand forward as the preferred trade and tourism hub of the region.

MIX: Your hotel, the St Regis Bangkok, is in Ratchaprasong district. How important has TCEB’s public-private partnership been in shedding light on this area and Bangkok as a whole?
TCEB’s role is crucial in putting the Ratchaprasong area on the regional map. Working hand in hand with the community of hotels under the Ratchaprasong Square Trade Association, and supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the whole area of Ratchaprasong has been positioned as the heart of Bangkok in terms of shopping and entertainment. With the efficient BTS Skytrain system along with Bangkok’s increasing international exposure as a leading business and lifestyle destination in Southeast Asia, I think Ratchaprasong’s integrated shopping area is comparable to Singapore’s Orchard Road or Hong Kong’s Central.

Krister Svensson is general manager of The St Regis Bangkok. He attended school in Thailand before embarking on a career in hotels, much of it with Starwood


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