Thailand is the most popular tourist destination in SE Asia, and for good reason. You can find almost anything here: pristine beaches, stunning National Parks, great food, unique cultural and historical sites, some of the best luxury hotels in the world and its carefree people famed for their smiles. There is something for every interest and every budget. It’s no surprise that Thailand is among the top 10 most visited destinations in the world.
Tourism is also a major economic factor in the Kingdom of Thailand. The latest reported figures by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports claim that Tourism revenue contributed a 17.7% slice of the country’s GDP last year.For such an important sector, which creates jobs, drives exports, and generates prosperity across the country, we wanted to find out more about the person heading this role, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, H. E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul. At first sight, she appears to be a passionate woman working hard to showcase the tremendous economic, social, cultural, environmental, and heritage value that the sector can bring, helping create wealth and employment for the whole country. However, in meeting Khun Kobkarn, it doesn’t take you long to realise that you are in front of an incredibly inspiring woman. She speaks with such passion and depth of thought, yet in such a humble, friendly demeanour, that you wouldn’t know you are talking to an esteemed Minister.Her thirst for life stems from her first role model since childhood, His Majesty the late King, Bhumibol Adulyadej. “I am not just saying it
because I feel that I have to. I truly feel it and believe it.” She speaks with such conviction about the late King’s teachings to his people. “He taught us to truly believe in ourselves and look for our strengths. That every individual is important – no matter who you are. Every person working at all levels are equally important, and all together can contribute to make Thailand a better place. “Those teachings inspired her
to foster a mindset of wanting to do good and contribute for the good of the people and the good of Thailand.
“We should realise that what we have today is because of what someone did in the past. It depends on how you look at life and how you look at yourself. If you think nothing, then you are nothing. If you believe that whatever you do can contribute something to someone, then you can, and you have to be the one that takes action. Everyone is equally important. No matter who you are, what position you hold, or what you do, you can be the driver of your life. We have to do what we have to do to make the country a better place.”
Her motivation in everything that she does is driven by two questions: “How can we make Thailand better? How can more people benefit from my efforts?”
Khun Kobkarn is a versatile and accomplished woman which has achieved so much in business and in life. Despite her many accolades, she remains modest and focused on the principles and beliefs that have guided her from the beginning. An insurmountable belief in people and a desire to do good for everyone.
No matter who you are, what position you hold, or what you do, you can be the driver of your life. We have to do what we have to do to make the country a better place
She possesses an impressive and eclectic CV. Prior to accepting the Minister’s role, Khun Kobkarn was the Chairperson for Toshiba Thailand Co. Ltd., and has held numerous positions, such as the President of the Thai Japanese Association, President of the Self-Sufficient Economy Committee (Thai Chamber of Commerce), Committee Member of the Anticorruption, the Head of the Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World Committee –Thailand. For someone who has achieved so much in the corporate sector, the question remains – why move to politics at the height of her career? “I never thought I would end up here, working in politics”. She admits. “Back in 2014, I remember clearly the day I got the call from General Prayut Chan-o-cha, and the first thing that he said to me: Could you do something for the country?”.
Even though she was aware that the Minister’s role would be a challenging role, and she lacked experience in the industry, being given an opportunity to do something good for the country was an offer she couldn’t refuse. And with that, she was appointed to the position of Minister, the first woman to be given this role in Thai history. And she hasn’t looked back ever since. Even though she has a top ranked governmental position, she appears to be relentless in leading the way by engaging in every project that the Ministry is working on, and actively interacting across all levels. Her passion for the role, and a passion for people, is translating into positive growth and successful initiatives being
launched by the Ministry. Whenever she speaks, it is not about numbers, but the impact that good practices have in the people involved. Her approach to work has brought a very human side to politics. “You can do anything if you truly believe in it. For me personally, it’s not so much about how many more tourists we attract to Thailand, but instead, how can we distribute wealth for everyone? How can people have a better income and a better life? “Her focus for tourism is on people being closer with one another, embracing new cultures and long-lasting friendships. To treat tourists not like numbers, but more like friends. “We know that people believe in people.
So when people come to Thailand and meet us, they know who we are.30% of tourists keep coming back, and we believe this is because of our friendship and understanding. So we work for much more than the numbers. It goes beyond our beautiful beaches, great food and culture. It is because of the friendship of the Thai people. We are friends with everyone and we value friendship very much. Once our friend, you are considered a friend for life.”Her vision for tourism is to make Thailand a quality tourism destination, not only within high-end luxury travel, but also across all other sectors and budgets.
She hopes to be able to provide quality tourism to everyone that visits Thailand, irrespective of their budget.Besides the emphasis on quality, Khun Kobkarn is also dedicated to the development of the industry and for it to grow sustainably, hoping it will become a top tourist destination in all aspects. “We welcome everyone” she said.In order to create wealth distribution and fulfil her legacy to make Thailand a quality destination, she is actively promoting secondary destinations aside of traditional holiday spots – Thailand’s “hidden gems” as she calls them, combined with growth in sustainability, so that more people can get something out of tourism. When asked what project is closest to her heart, she hesitates. She
loves them all. However, you can see her come alive when she starts talking about the introduction of “Amazing Thailand Tourism 2018” campaign, commencing in November 2017, which will continue to introduce more destinations for everyone to benefit, across a wide variety of services – medical, gastronomic, cultural, etc. She is also very excited to tell us about the new sports initiatives that the ministry is implementing, among others, marathons, triathlons, biking events, MOTO GP and car racing, air races, etc. An extensive list with something for everyone. We could discuss at length about the positive projections that the Ministry of Tourism and Sports is expecting over the coming years. However, in meeting Khun Kobkarn, we’d dare say that an increase in foreign visitors, higher expenditure per stay, longer stays per trip, and higher percentage of repeat
guests to Thailand are simply the result of putting the right focus in the right place, the people. Undoubtedly, under her leadership, the country’s tourism and sport sectors will continue to grow stronger. On a final note, we decided to ask Khun Kobkarn to share with the readers of Expat Life her most precious hidden gem, and she doesn’t hesitate: “Nakhon Si Thammarat” in the South of Thailand. It is one of the most ancient cities of Thailand – previously known as the Kingdom of Ligor. “It has everything. It is the first province where Buddhism entered Thailand. Khanom beach. Beautiful waterfalls. Pink dolphins. Historical buildings and ruins. Mountains with some of the cleanest air in the country. Great food and even greater people.” It sounds like the perfect place to add to our bucket list, and it comes highly recommended by the Minister herself.
Isabel Valle is an accredited ICF PCC Coach, Leadership Mentor and Facilitator currently based in Bangkok. Isabel has held senior positions within the hospitality industry in countries around the world, and facilitates a holistic approach to leadership, growth and success. She specialises in virtual coaching and online mentoring that inspires action and helps leaders from all walks of life around the globe bring their gifts to life to help them create professional excellence and personal fulfilment. More information available on www.isabelvalle.com.