No timetable was given, but the Thailand Elite Card has been mothballed for two years, while government agencies pondered over its future.
TAT deputy governor, Wilaiwan Tawitsri, said the TAT’s work on the operational restructuring of Thailand Privilege Card Company Limited (TPC), which was given the debt ridden project, is nearing completion.
Findings and a recommendations to revamp the project will be presented to Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism & Sports Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa on May 29.
“Mr Chumpol will be able to present all information for the Cabinet in the hope the project may gain a B80 million emergency budget to enable the TPC to continue operations until the end of December 2012.”
Earlier, the TPC’s board president and TAT governor, Suraphon Svetasreni, had said the card company would be closed. He has since revised his response saying it is now possible to keep the card alive.
He is under political pressure, possibly from the ministry, as all the economic pointers would suggest the card has little or no value to the country’s tourism industry in the long-run.
Private sector experts suggested that if the card had any future it might possibly be in a tie-up with a major international card company that could brand it and market it to repeat visitors to Thailand at a fraction of the cost incurred if it is run by government agencies.
However, the TAT governor, defending his change of heart, cited a survey that showed that ending the project would create a negative image for the country.
“If it was closed down, TPC would need B2.4 billion to compensate its members, excluding the legal action it might face, which would damage the country’s image.
“Keeping the Thailand Elite Card alive will cost a lot of money and it won’t generate revenue or a high return on investment. However, it could pave the way to attract investment to the country in the long run.”
The TPC revival plan is upbeat about the prospect of attracting 4,000 new members under a four-year plan that could generate B3.5 billion. The target is based on acquiring 1,000 members a year from 2013 to 2016. The original business plan targeted 1 million members to make it financially viable.
“Under the new business plan, the TAT will shift its focus away from Europe and towards Asia, the Middle East and South Africa,” Mr Suraphon said.
Privileges will be divided into three levels: platinum, gold and silver. TPC plans to work with the Ministry of Commerce and the Thai Board of Investment to list prospective names of invitation-only platinum and gold members. For silver members, TPC will promote the card in the media.
Privileges include a five-year visa and a limousine service 48 times a year.
Initially, new cardholders will get a 15-year membership instead of a lifetime, as in the past. The membership fee will be set at B100,000 a year.
“If the Cabinet allows the the TAT to revive TPC, it will need B500 million to replenish the paid-up capital to B1 billion. That will be used on re-branding, organisational restructuring and new business plans,” he said.
TPC was established to manage the Thailand Elite Card, which was supposed to be an exclusive lifetime benefit card, priced at B1 million, for multimillionaires visiting Thailand.
The project was launched by the former Thaksin Shinawatra government in 2003. It was dismal failures from the word go and the only really attractive benefits were a fast-track to a five-year visa and the dangled possibility that it might confer the right to buy land. That never happened.
Discounts at resorts, spas and golf courses, and other perks, had little value, as better deals were available in the commercial market.
There are currently 2,563 members, mainly Koreans, Japanese, and Taiwanese who were attracted by the possibility of the land purchase facility.
Even today the Thailand Elite Card has a spacious meet-and-greet service office at Suvarnabhumi Airport in a prime location close to the Tourist Police. Around five staff dressed in traditional Thai costume stay at the office, although there appears to be no reason for their presence.