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Bill Owen, photographed in Britain earlier this year

Bill Owen Remembered: In His Own Words

Tuesday, September 15, 2009
BILL OWEN, a tireless promoter of Phuket and one of the pioneers of the travel industry on the island, has died in Britain after a long illness.

Alasdair Forbes, former managing editor of the Phuket Gazette, remembers him as ''one of the early guys to get tourism going here. He was very chatty, very personable. I am going to miss him.''

Simon Hand, managing editor of the Phuket Post, said that Bill Owen was ''one of the first people i met on Phuket. Whenever he came to the island, we tried to catch up. Nikita's in Rawai was one of his favorites.''

In his 50s, Mr Owen leaves college age children Chris and Heather.

Phuketwan pays tribute with some of Bill Owen's own words about the industry he loved:

Phuketwan, April 21

TODAY Bill Owen will be enjoying the second day of the conference he thought might never happen.

It opened on Monday morning at the Imperial Queens Park Hotel in Bangkok despite the red shirt skirmishes and the attempted assassination of a senior yellow shirt leader.

For Mr Owen, a well-know tourist industry figure on Phuket, the efforts to put out fires and quell nervousness proved worthwhile.

''We are happy to report that the majority of delegates are attending,'' he said.

''Thankfully in this instance, with a lot of hard work, much communication, emails, and correspondence to all delegates, we were fortunate and lucky with timings.''

The Bangkok Post reckons the week of anarchy staged by the red shirts cost the tourist industry sales of 100 billion baht.

''The worldwide recession has put people out of work and placed overseas holidays beyond the reach of many families,'' a newspaper editorial says.

''Those who can afford to travel will be selective and not in a mood to take risks. The tourism industry's biggest headache is uncertainty.''

Mr Owen said the government eventually acted firmly and quickly in ending the demonstrations.

''As it is, these national government travel warnings are the ''killer'' in these situations,'' he said.

Phuketwan, April 14

THE OTHER struggle taking place in Bangkok right now is the fight by the tourism industry to maintain its viability.

Bill Owen, director of Oriental Leisure, an incentive and events organiser, has an international convention for more than 750 people beginning on Sunday - in Bangkok.

''I'm currently in the middle of ensuring that everybody is kept fully informed on what's actually going on in the city,'' he told Phuketwan.

''We are beginning to receive requests for updates on an hourly basis and we are simply trying to ensure that this event goes ahead.

''We are trying to put out as many fires as possible right now, to check the safety aspects of travelling in and around the city.''

His task is likely to prove a race against time.

Thailand Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a late night television speech that the situation in Bangkok was gradually being returned to normal under a state of emergency.

But will the red shirts continue to cause mayhem on the streets for the rest of the week?

''Hopefully the government and military will be able to get the situation under control in the next few days,'' Mr Owen said.

''If that's the case, we can all settle down for this particular event at least. But it hasn't been an easy ride.''

Those with jobs or investments in the travel industry in Thailand are the ones who are suffering most because of the continuing political unrest.

The country has not been stable since the 2006 coup that overthrew disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

First Thaksin's yellow-shirt opponents took over the Bangkok airports in November. Now his red-shirt supporters are attempting to take over Bangkok's streets.

Meanwhile Thaksin simply urges a ''revolution'' (later modified to a ''peaceful revolution'') from sanctuary overseas, in self-imposed exile to avoid fraud and corruption cases in Thailand.

For Mr Owen, an involuntary participant in the yellow versus red rumble, the portents for the future of tourism in Thailand remain clouded.

''Sadly, the country is shooting itself in the foot,'' he said.

''I can't really comment on the mainstream tourism markets because as a company we are focused 100 percent on the meetings and incentives (MICE) business.

''What with the current global recession and the local political situation, the MICE-events business in Thailand looks extremely bleak indeed.''

Thailand has tended to let the protests play out rather than risk the alternative, outright civil war. But the strategy has left the country's once-magnetic tourism industry sidelined, and bleeding profusely.

Mr Owen says traditional long-haul MICE markets, especially from Europe and Australia, are already ''in major decline,'' mostly because of the global downturn.

''Now our local and usually faithful (and productive) markets of Singapore and other Asean-based areas are turning off their business, mostly because of the uncertainties of the political situation,'' Mr Owen told Phuketwan.

''Bangkok will certainly be devastated by the present crisis and Phuket will also inevitably have a knock-on effect.

''The MICE business is always affected by two major issues: security-safety and economic decline. Both are affecting this market right now.''

Expansion and diversification are the antidotes being pursued by Oriental Leisure.

The company is increasing its marketing, especially at international trade shows, and expanding services to Vietnam, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

''We are also starting to concentrate on our other specialist areas,'' Mr Owen said. The company also handles wedding planning, off-site catering, team building, local VIP and government events.

''It's vital to concentrate on your niche markets in times of recession and decline,'' he says. ''For us, 2009 will be an OK year.

''We feel we will be able to ride the storm while at the same time promoting ourselves in a much wider area for future business when it returns.

''However, we are not expecting a wonderful 2010.''

He says Thailand's government must ensure long-term stability before the country, and especially holiday-dependent destinations such Phuket, are able to recover.

''In the meantime, specialist suppliers like Oriental Leisure will have to reduce all relevant cost centres, diversify market bases while concentrating on niches, and to work with partners in developing long-term marketing and sales strategies for the future.''

''People's insurance becomes null and void if they travel, and many organisations urge clients to follow these to the letter.''

For Mr Owen, who runs Oriental Leisure, it was a narrow escape. But he fears for the future.

''We have already had several postponements or cancellations and as importantly a real slowing down of inquiries for future events,'' he said.

''Corporate convention and conference clients rely on both the stability of a country and its ability to handle such events. Without this initial stability, they are immediately turned off.

''Thailand had for many years a reputation of being one of the most stable and politically safe places to visit in the region and so it was a great place to hold such events.

Sadly after the past six months, this is no longer the case.

''The Government now MUST begin to ensure that this stability returns. The country currently seems to be divided more than any time I can remember.

''And if this reconciliation can't be created, then we as a travel-tourism industry must be VERY honest with our overseas clients and advise them of the exact situation.

''We must also advise them of places such as Phuket, and Chiang Mai, which are certainly safer than Bangkok, where trouble may at times arise.''

The Bangkok Post says the government rescue package ''includes 75 million baht to restore foreign visitor confidence and increase safety measures in tourism spots and 325 million baht to convince foreign visitors to travel to Thailand both for business and leisure.''

Just how much will come Phuket's way has yet to be made clear. Despite the income the island generates, it is chronically starved of funding.

Phuket will fall back again this low season on its most reliable supporters: Australians and New Zealanders.

Since the 2004 tsunami and through every crisis since, it is the trippers on direct flights, lately via Jetstar, who have provided Phuket with its pick-me-up return guests.

While tourists from China, Korea and Japan tend to cancel at the first whistle of a travel alert, the Down Under tourists tend to be resilient and understand the vast difference between Bangkok and Phuket.

But there will be postponements. Independent Brands Australia for example has pushed back its planned conference on Phuket next month to August 17-25.

The conference includes business sessions, sight-seeing and networking opportunities.

Phuketwan, December 3 2008

FOR PHUKET and Thailand, the year ahead has already been turned into one of the most difficult ever. We sought opinions from the island's business and community leaders. Here's what they say:

Preecha Ruangjan, Governor of Phuket: Phuket will be affected by the airports blockade in Bangkok, and the general global economic downturn as well. Direct flights and charter flights are to be encouraged so that Phuket does not have to be concerned about problems in Bangkok in future. The number of tourists was trending down before the blockade. Phuket is a great tourist destination and will survive, just as it has survived other problems in the past. Some staff at spas have already lost their jobs because fewer tourists are coming from Japan and China especially now. The world economic situation will affect Phuket more than the PAD protests from now on, well into 2009.

Bill Owen, director of incentive and events organiser, Oriental Leisure: Sadly these past four or five months have really had a bad affect on the tourism business in general, culminating with the closeure of the Bangkok airports being a real devastating final nail in the coffin. Our business, and particularly the MICE sector, has basically come to a complete stop. We have already had four major cancellations, and one postponement for Phuket and one cancellation for a small executive forum in Bangkok for mid-December.
With the exception of business we have been ablr to re-book and reorganise in other parts of SE Asia, into Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam, our Thailand business is now at zero for the next few months.
We are currently exhibiting with a Thai delegation at Europe's leading MICE travel exhibition in Barcelona this week and are obviously out there to promote Phuket and Thailand as destinations. But clients are not interested right now as they really have lost faith in the stability of the country, both politically and safety-wise.
I think the end users, that is the actual customers, will want to come back sooner, rather than later, but feel all overseas agents who have been really hurt and affected badly over the past 10 days or so will turn off their marketing efforts for Thailand and will concentrate on safer, more stable areas such as Malaysia and the like. Other countries, I am sure, will benefit greatly by this whole affair.
So short term, we have been devastated. Medium term, with a little assistance on reduced rates from hotels, and a lots of hard work in the South-East Asian markets, we will get some of the MICE business back. This will take four to six months, minimum. Long term, one year or more will be required to win the return of international conventions and corporates.
So sadly, although I do and have supported the aims of the Peoples Alliance for Democracy throughout, the closure of the Bangkok airport was a definite 'shoot yourself in the foot' strategy for what was an already reduced MICE Market, which was about to be affected badly by the general world recession anyway.
Phuket will now have to go back to its roots: knocking on the corporate doors of our Asian neighbours to start all over, and slowly build our businesses again.
Since I started business in Phuket in early 1990s, there has been bird flu scares, numerous coups, the tsunami, several downturns in the economy, two Middle East wars, and more. The strong and professional companies will survive and get stronger. The inefficient and unprofessional ones will fail. And long term, Phuket will always be a great destination.

Claire Ratcliffe of Coral Seekers, a speedboat charter company operating since 1996: The company had four bookings cancel in the week the airport siege started, and this high season our bookings will be down by at least 50 percent from last year. We are hoping that when the airports reopen, people in the Asia-Pacific region will book last-minute holidays to Phuket, taking advantage of their expected greater spending power, because hotel prices will definitely be cut. We are also starting to advertise promotional offers for our trips, aimed at local residents and their families who come visit them. Our third child is due in two weeks and we have had to change doctors as a result of the airport situation. Our two sons were born using the same doctor at Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok, and we were expecting to have our third boy there, but worries about our ability to travel have forced us to move to a Phuket hospital. We have been left with no freedom of choice. The difference between this situation and the 2004 tsunami is that back then people wanted to come and help after the wave hit.

What the PAD says: The People's Alliance for Democracy has been rallying since May 25, 2008 for two objectives: to oopose attempts to amend the 2007 Constitution and to drive out the proxy-killer government in order to pave the way for new politics. Throughout the longest protest seen in Thai history, the PAD has carried out its duties of protecting the nation, religion, the Monarchy and the Constitution. The Constitutional Court's verdict is clear proof that the previous administration's power was not obtained through democracy under the Constitution but was accomplished through electoral fraud, and that the rally by the PAD was legitimate. The court's verdict leads the PAD to realise two of its goals:
1.The PAD is victorious in its attempt to protect the 2007 Constitution and made it possible to three ruling coalition political parties to be disbanded for electoral fraud.
2.The PAD is victorious in being able to drive out the proxy-killer government. The PAD now declares that the victory it attained in meeting the objectives of its gathering on December 2, 2008 is a ''victory of the people.''
The PAD would like to make the following pledges: If a proxy government of the Thaksin regime is set up again or if there is an attempt to amend the Constitution or the law to whitewash the wrongdoings of those in the Thaksin regime, to benefit politicians, or to lessen the power of the King, the PAD will return. From now on if there is any government which comes into power but is insincere in its efforts to launch new politics with the people, the PAD will return. We would like to sincerely thank the [people for being part of this historic event. Until we meet again, when the country needs us, with deepest respect, People's Alliance for Democracy.

Promchote Traivate, Director of Tourism and Sports Office, Phuket: Many tourists have cancelled bookings. More will cancel between now and February, some because there will not be airlines flying as frequently. But some tourists will continue to come, provided the airports are open. The world economic downturn will also affect numbers next year, but well-off travellers will be able to still take holidays on Phuket. Charter flights are a good thing for Phuket, so are direct flights. Total numbers will be down. The good thing is that many Europeans are regular travellers to Phuket, and they stay for a week or more. The people closer in the region who will stop coming tend to stay for shorter periods.

Sethaphan Bubbhani, Director of Tourism Authority of Thailand, Andaman region: There is no avoid it. Phuket bookings are down about 25 percent. Travellers are concerned about what might happen next politically in Thailand. About 60 percent of visitors, though, are repeat visitors, so they know and love Phuket and are likely to keep returning. One good point is that the value for money that Phuket delivers is good by comparison with other destinations, and Thai hospitality will not change. There are 25 airlines who run charters or fly here direct, and they will keep coming as normal. We have some good events coming early next year. There will be a mass Baba wedding on February 14, offering a different kind of Valentine's Day. It will take time to recover. While numbers will be down, there is a lot that is positive and appealing about Phuket. It will be at least two months before we can tell clearly what to expect next year and in the 2009-10 high season. The protests took Phuket occupancy rates from 80 percent to 50 percent. Forward bookings have also dropped dramatically, to 25 percent.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Bill's like will never be seen again. Adieu, dear friend. xxx

Posted by Carole on September 15, 2009 16:58

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A true gentleman and a legend in the Bristol area for his success in Phuket. Folks from Bristol, even those who never met him, have told me that when they think of Phuket they think of Bill. He will be missed.

Posted by James on September 15, 2009 17:19

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We met each other since 1994 and it immediately click. He is not just colleague or partner but he is my truly brother which going along together very well. He knew what I want and expecting but he also guide me to walk carefully with confident in this business industry.

Posted by Worapot Srabua - CEO/Managing Director of Oriental Events on September 17, 2009 13:57

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A quiet word or two of thanks from Phuket's gay community for Bill, who was discreetly active in it and helped to really put it on the map especially with the 2005 Nation V party. You'll be missed by us all Bill. Fondest thoughts, Allan and gang.

Posted by Allan Wetherspoon on September 19, 2009 17:06


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