Thailand Tourism Industry Veteran David Barrett Speaks Out

Thailand, David Barrett, personality, interview, travel inbound

David Barrett (middle) at the recent Skal meeting in Bangkok

Bangkok-based David Barrett talked to ASEAN.travel contributor Vincent Vichit-Vadakan about pitching for new business and prospects for the future.

“You need an elevator pitch in life,” says industry stalwart David Barrett, both consummate showman and respected professional promoting the brands that seek out his insight. Next year will mark Barrett’s three decades in the hospitality industry in Thailand. With a strong background in MICE and events, he runs his own consultancy and content creation agency DBC Asia, and is associated with properties like The Slate in Phuket and Pullman King Power in Bangkok. Barrett can also be spotted advising the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), snapping his fingers on his own YouTube channel where he grills industry players, or moderating a panel on the future of tourism for a Skål International event in Bangkok, where ASEAN.travel caught up with him for an exclusive chat this week.

He answers questions with stories. A born raconteur, he gleefully relates the far-fetched tale of crawling through a window in Johannesburg and stumbling onto the stage of a networking session in front of fifty businessmen. Rather than kicking Barrett out, the speaker challenged his gate-crasher to give his elevator pitch on the spot.

“I was like a deer in headlights, but then I switched on,” recalls Barrett. “’I am here to improve your life through travel’,” he replied. He asked who had been to Thailand and only a few hands went up. “’I can make it happen, come and see me.’” His pitch worked because he followed a simple principle. “People want to talk about themselves. You need to engage.”

Practicing what he preaches, he was still working the room hours after the official event ended, giving equal attention to seasoned hotel GMs and a future tourism graduate who is seeking his advice on starting his career.

He is diplomatic in public, but off the record his judgements are candid, pertinent and when appropriate, scathing: he labels one group as “B-listers”; another executive “doesn’t sell a very good storyline” about his company; businesses that aren’t being pro-active in the Covid crisis he dismisses as “elephants [that] are slow to move”.

He is equally critical of his own bungled performances. Recounting the time he assailed a hapless businessman whom he’d mistaken for someone else with a pitch that left the stranger bewildered, he admits he didn’t see the signs. “I was in my own world.” But it was a learning experience: “It was telling, not selling. Listen to people.” On another presentation, he is equally harsh: “That was a three out of ten.”

Barrett may have been the moderator of the day’s panel discussion entitled Restarting Tourism that included Willem Niemeijer, CEO of Yanna Ventures; Charlie Blocker, IC Partners CEO and American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand Travel and Tourism Committee Chair; Christian Stoeckli, General Manager at Diethelm Travel Thailand; and a presentation by Prem Singh, Managing Director of Kingsman Hygiene Plus. But he definitely has his own thoughtful answers to the probing questions he was asking.

On placing the hopes of the industry on domestic tourism, he notes grimly, “The reality is the domestic market will try and feed a few but it won’t be enough.” He also points to the disconnect between the top-down travel stimulus package announced by Thailand and the reluctance of people in rural areas to travel to the big cities like Bangkok. Barrett, who spends a lot of time at his eco-conscious farm Latis in Ubon Ratchathani in northeastern Thailand, offers the example of the family of the well-to-do poo yai baan or village chief there who has expressed no interest to travel far. “They just don’t relate,” Barrett says.

As for short-term prospects for international business travel: “It’ll be baby steps. People just don’t have the confidence. You’re not going to take the crème de la crème [of your company], and fly them half way round the world as a treat.”

In 2021, he sees regional tourism kicking back in. “Confidence could be regained and then it’s a three- to four-hour radius.” But long-haul travel is still a long way off. “If you ask Americans when they’ll be returning to Asia, they’re saying certainly not until 2023 or possibly 2024.”

Barrett has embraced social media and is never short of catchy ideas. Among his upcoming projects, he is planning a hybrid in-person/online forum next month during which industry professionals with decades of experience will be grilled by a razor-sharp 14-year old. “She is going to take them to task,” he says of his own Greta Thunberg. “It’s quite good to shake it up, not just old people waffling on.”

What is Barrett’s pitch these days? “I am in business to build your business. Even during these distressed times, you need to get back to some form of normalcy, you need revenue, and I am here to help you with a strategy that can bring revenue.” It is a pitch that opens doors. Or at least windows.