PATA Set to Take Leading Role in Redefining Tourism in Turbulent Times

PATA SemoneBy Peter Semone, Chair PATA

Since 1951, PATA has served as a catalyst for responsible development of travel and tourism to, from and within the Asia Pacific Region. It has brought together the public and private sectors to deliver meaningful partnerships and help local communities enjoy the fruits of tourism. Stretching across the best piece of tourism real estate on the planet, PATA has helped build businesses through events, intelligence, communications and network. Our membership covers national to municipal governments, and micro to multi-national business ventures.

PATA truly exemplifies the term ‘unity in diversity’.

Today, our region faces multiple crises, sadly all of them man-made. The crushing socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the emerging effects of climate change, and geopolitical unrest are all existential threats to tourism worldwide.  It is in such turbulent times that members turn to their associations for solutions, for hope, for a sense of optimism.

I can promise our members that we will live up to their expectations. Together, we will deliver.

But first, it is important to reflect on our own past.

PATA shifted its headquarters from San Francisco to Bangkok in 1998. This was widely applauded as a strategic move to take advantage of the emerging Asian Century by embedding PATA in the center of the action. We must ask whether or not we lived up to that mission, and if not, why? Did PATA embrace and align its agenda in line with the emerging generation and their new ways of thinking? Or were we too fixated on past glories?

There are many views, all of which deserve to be respectfully heard. In going forward, we must harness them, learn from our mistakes and approach the future with honesty and humility. Only then, can we walk the talk and set PATA on a pathway that addresses future challenges.

This is a transformational moment that will define PATA for decades to come. In the words of the business guru Peter Drucker, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

The pre-Covid boom-times that saw record arrivals in 2019 gave rise to both celebration and commiseration. While balance sheets looked rosy, the environmental and social consequences of mass tourism were widely criticized. We heard resounding calls to recalibrate how we measure success and innovate our products and services to achieve a balanced scorecard across environmental, social, economic and geopolitical indicators.

That, too, is a chance to learn from our mistakes. As we look beyond the Covid era, we must ensure that we rebalance the development trajectory.

PATA’s network of host communities, national governments, and tourism service providers can now become a focal point for delivering meaningful solutions on how to make it more resilient to shocks and with greater respect for ecological boundaries. Tourists, too, have developed a new appreciation for the importance of sustainability and delivery of stakeholder value. Consequently, there is now a unique window of opportunity to put in place reforms that enable tourism to contribute to Peace and Prosperity for the People, Profitability for Businesses, and Preservation for the Planet.

When I declared my candidacy for Chair PATA in 2022, I committed to initiating change to ensure our association remains relevant and regains its rightful position as the ‘Voice’ of Pacific Asia tourism.

Should PATA advocate to “build back better” or “build forward better”? Here are some thoughts:

Ensuring the survival of our members. If our members don’t survive, neither can we. As we have repeatedly seen since moving to Asia, man-made external shocks become existential threats to our members. We need to broaden our agenda to start addressing these external shocks without fear or favour.

Align and balance our roster of benefits to meet members’ needs. We must find innovative ways to harness the power of partnerships and sponsorships via targeted events and activities. We must control costs and increase efficiencies by reviewing our internal structures to maximize operational effectiveness.

Leverage the potential of our brand value and become a platform for innovative, agile and bold thinking. More than ever, our members seek guidance and leadership.

Harness the power of the media, in all its multiple forms. We must be more transparent and communicate with clarity and consistency. We must be seen as a trusted thought leader with a powerful voice that resonates.

Resist a return to the “Business as Usual” scenario. Codes of conducts for visitors and user-pays taxation may become the norm, but only if they deliver their intended results.

Confront another onrushing threat – the rise of global extremism, nationalism, religious and ethnic strife which have severely impacted at least a few PATA destinations in the past and may well do so again in future.

With PATA’s leadership we can re-invent tourism in the Asia-Pacific and redirect it to serve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals by the target date of 2030.

We must Redefine Tourism in Turbulent Times. To make it more resilient to external shocks. To address the issues of climate change and sustainability. To better balance quality and quantity. To shift from destination marketing to destination management. To build genuine partnerships between government, industry and host communities. To promote tourism investments that are adaptable to change and profitable to many. To improve resilience by diversifying tourism markets and rethinking the business model.

To set the ball rolling, the PATA Executive Board recently established five Expert Task Forces (ETFs) covering these topics: Brand and Voice, Events, Membership Engagement, Organizational Design and Digital Readiness. The recommendations of these ETFs will help define PATA’s new direction strategically and operationally.

In addition, I invite ALL members to share their views and perspectives. My door is open, and always will be.

During my two-year chairmanship, I am committed to leveraging the strengths of our rich and diverse membership for the common good.

If an organisation like PATA did not exist, it would have to be created.

I invite all our members to join us on this New Journey.


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