Having lived in the US and Thailand, and now in India for the past four years as the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya has had an interesting journey full of twists and turns. He engages us in a witty conversation.
How long have you been in India, and what has your experience been like?
I have been here four years, three months, two days, thirteen hours, thirty-eight minutes at the time of writing. It has been a thrilling ride. India is a happening place, and I feel privileged to be here when transformations are all around you.
Thailand and India have a lot in common in terms of culture and society. What are the primary differences, according to you?
India has a much faster pace while Thailand is a lot slower. Due to the size of India’s population and the size of the country, there are vast differences in culture from one state to another. In Thailand, there are regional differences but not as noticeable as there are in India.
The recent floods are quite unfortunate; we grieve for those who have lost their homes and even lives. How has this affection tourism and other businesses? What are your plans for getting tourism back on track?
Tourism, as were many industries, was widely affected by the floods. Many destinations were damaged and travel to affected areas declined substantially. Most importantly, people’s lives were literally turned upside down. In terms of markets, tourist traffic from long-haul and medium-haul markets dropped significantly. To get tourism back on track, we are concentrating on media and agent familiarisation trips to Thailand, aggressive joint advertising with agents online and offline, and generally working with the travel trade in Thailand and in South Asia to restore confidence via promotional activities.
What is the most beautiful place in Thailand according to you? What are the surprising things we don’t know about Thailand?
Each has its own unique charm: Chiang Mai for its cool climate all year round; Bangkok for its cosmopolitan, sophisticated lifestyle; and Phuket for its sunny beaches and tropical hospitality. I think many Indians would be surprised to learn that the world-famous energy drink Red Bull is essentially a Thai product and that over 60 per cent of foreign visitors to Thailand are repeaters.
In your career of over twenty-four years with TAT, what has been your most trying or difficult moment?
The most trying thing is living here in India. I am still adjusting to life here even after four years. There is really no way to overcome the difficulties – the number of people, confusing and sometimes dangerous traffic, dearth of peace and quiet, and lack of professionalism in many service businesses. You just have to go with the flow.
And what has been the best or most exciting moment?
The best moments are those times when I get to travel to somewhere nice around the world with my colleagues or sometimes with my family (I have been happily married twenty-one years, and have a son studying at university in Thailand, and a daughter who has just completed high school in New Delhi). I consider it a life’s bonus when you get paid to travel for work in some of the most amazing places in the world.
How many Indian tourists visit Thailand every year? What are your busiest months?
We had 8.38 lakh tourists from India in 2011, up from 6.78 lakh in 2010. We expect the upward momentum of arrivals from India to be maintained in 2012, primarily due to India’s robust economy. The busiest months are April-June (school holidays) and again during November-January (year-end holidays).
You have travelled to various places around the world. Which is your favourite holiday destination?
London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. I love all big cities in Europe, US and East Asia for the variety of sightseeing, food and entertainment options.
Which is your favourite place in India?
Jaipur is by far my favourite place. I love its cultural heritage and the opulence of its palaces and hotels. Every city view is spectacular, plus you get camels on the roads. New Delhi comes in at second. It is India’s most livable city: Plenty of great tourist sites, museums, parks, shopping and fine-dining here.
Did the IIFA awards help in promoting Bangkok as a tourist destination?
Yes, it did much to put Thailand on the map, as both a film shooting location and as a major venue for international events. Bangkok, in particular, was highlighted to great effect during IIFA.
What does luxury mean to you?
It means anything that you long for to make your life happier. It can be anything from a quiet night at home with your family to a lavish meal at a pricey restaurant.
What is your idea of a perfect holiday?
To go somewhere interesting with the people you love to be with, preferably your family.
First published in Atelier magazine