World Travel & Tourism Council's (WTTC) 17th Global Summit of 2017, the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, was held at Bangkok, Thailand on 26 and 27 April with the theme 'Transforming our World'.
Conducted on an impressive scale, it comprised stimulating panel discussions in the main auditorium of the Centara Grand while “Meet the experts” sessions were held simultaneously in suites where the media could interact with the speakers.
Moderators Nick Ross and Stephen Sackur did a brilliant job in keeping their respective discussions right on course with excellent control, and giving ample room to every speaker.
The parallel sessions being equally pertinent, it became difficult to choose what to watch and which to forego. Over 800 senior executives attended the summit from travel and tourism's public and private sectors which included ministers from 13 nations.
The formal inauguration by HE General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Deputy Prime minister of Thailand set the stage for an event that would be remembered for a long time.
He said, “This is the first time the WTTC Global Summit has been held in South East Asia and we are honoured that Bangkok was chosen as the host city which welcomes millions of visitors from around the world every year.” David Scowsill, President and CEO, WTTC, in his opening speech urged the leading figures from the public and private sector to stand up and make a real difference… to lead in the “eradication of poverty, cleaning up the oceans, and protecting habitats”.
Travel & tourism stimulates the economy by generating over $USD 7.6 trillion globally, supporting over 292 million jobs, one in 10 jobs worldwide.
The sector has consistently grown faster in the global economy in the last six years despite terrorism and natural disasters.
He said that the world is a better place if we have the freedom to travel, to celebrate the immense diversity of our planet, to do business and to create jobs and to generate prosperity.
Reiterating that travel is not for a privileged few, Scowsill concluded, “The world and its astonishing beauties are for everyone… and must be accessible to all.” Among the many diverse topics discussed, some stood out by the clarity of vision of the speakers and others by the wit and quick steering by the moderator.
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron led the summit's programme with his keynote address on ‘Altered States - Has globalisation had its days?’ A gala dinner specially designed to showcase unique local Thai experiences was hosted at the Queen SirikitNational Convention Centre at end of Day One. On Day Two, in the panel discussion on ‘The Freedom to Travel - Can Asean countries lead the way?’ the keynote address was give by Thailand Minister of Tourism and Sports, Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, a most gracious lady.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Arief Yahya, the Philippines secretary of Tourism Wanda Corazon Teo and International Civil Aviation Organisation Asia & Pacific office regional director Arun Mishra were the other panelists.
In a later session AirAsia chief executive officer Tony Fernandes spoke on responsible and responsive leadership, and recollected the difficulties of dealing with a sudden crisis and the humane responsibility to families of victims of air accidents.
During the session on “The Indian Perspective” that explored what sustainable development means in the Indian context and the importance of travel & tourism in achieving more inclusive and equitable growth, Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, asked the industry to get prepared and adapt itself for the future as China and India will become top tourism source markets in the near future.
The two-day event concluded with a heart-warming speech by HE Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul who urged people to be “kind to one another” so we would no longer have “borders that divide”.
Indeed, travel and tourism can play a stellar role in bringing peace and brotherhood to our violence-ridden world. In her words, “Heal the world, seal the world”.
I stayed at the lavish Lebua Tower Club hotel in a grand 57th floor suite with private balconies offering the most spectacular views. The hotel personnel were prompt and competent and I felt enveloped in special care the minute I stepped inside.
A ‘Bangkok medley’ tour was organised for us. We started off with a visit to Pak Klong Talad, Bangkok's oldest and busiest wholesale market where flowers, spices and vegetables are sold in abundance.
Our guide Lew regaled us with humourous anecdotes related to the places we visited, lacing her talk with a distinct Thai flavour in every sentence. I saw the most exotic orchids stacked in enormous piles in profusion of heavenly hues.
We then hopped into tuk-tuks (threewheel local taxi) for a ride through Rattanakosin Island led by police escort on motorbikes. As our group of around 20 tuktuks moved in stately procession through the lanes of Bangkok, curious onlookers captured the strange scene on their cameras! We next visited the Wat Pra Kaew (Emerald Buddha Temple) replete with ornate gilded structures and golden pagodas.
The temple’s inner sanctum houses the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred idol for Buddhists in Thailand.The gargantuan premises with several exquisite temples embellished with gold leaf and semi precious stones reflected the hot summer sun in dazzling array.
After that we checked out the Grand Palace, the residence and administrative house of the kings. We left by boat, this time for a sumptuous lunch at Supatra River House, a two-storey traditional Thai house on the banks of the Chao Praya River. After a session of sated culinary contentment, we resumed our long-tailed-boat journey through the klongs or canals of Thonburi on the west side of the river from Bangkok.
We stopped at the last place on the itinerary, the Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, with its Khmer style pagoda decorated with ancient colorful Chinese porcelain. Still under construction, this too is a massive conglomerate of many temples, each flaunting porcelain inlay with multi-coloured stones.
Bangkok was quite an eye-opener for me. I was charmed by the local people so graceful, humble, pleasant and ever-smiling. The spotless and clean roads made me envious (why can't our roads be as clean?)
The delicious Thai food was served with such exquisite artistry (beautiful flowers arranged in perfect palate harmony along with utterly delectable fare) that one hesitated to eat it!
I must go back and see more of this unique country.