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Glimpse into the life of pioneer family behind tourism boom

Feb 21. 2017
Students and the book
Students and the book
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THAI tourism historian Chanin Donavanik knows the hotel business in Thailand well. As the son of Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui, founder of Dusit Thani (Dusit International), Chanin spent his entire life involved in hospitality.


The impressive story is described in “Thailand Tourism The Early Days” - a book that charts the progress of the Thai hospitality industry. 

The group’s flagship and iconic five-star Dusit Thani Bangkok, has stood sentinel at the entrance to Lumpini Park in the Thai capital since 1970. 

Chanin was chief executive officer of Dusit International until January 2016, a position he held for nine years. Today he has an advisory role on the board of directors, which oversees 29 Dusit branded properties worldwide, with approximately 45 hotels in the pipeline in 21 countries. 

When his mother established the hotel company in 1948, and subsequently opened her first hotel, The Princess, in 1949, she did so with the aim of introducing Thai hospitality to a global audience. Thanpuying Chanut always believed in Thailand’s potential to become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and she believed the best way to foster this growth would be through distinctive hotels that embraced local culture. 

Her motivation was never to make a lot of money. Instead, she wanted to build something lasting; a legacy to be proud of. And she inspired this same sense of purpose in her son. 

This manifested itself in numerous ways during Chanin’s tenure as CEO. 

Under his guidance, the group not only expanded its education division, it also introduced a Pattaya campus of its esteemed Dusit Thani College, established the Dusit Thani Hotel School in Bangkok, and launched joint educational programmes in the Philippines.

Chanin also extended the appeal of Dusit’s hospitality by launching dusitD2, a contemporary hotel brand designed to meet the needs of millennial travellers, and expanded Dusit International’s presence across eight countries worldwide. 

The travel industry is one of the most important industries in Thailand and today employs almost 15 per cent of the population and contributes 17 per cent of GDP to the Thai economy.

“I think it’s vitally important that the new generation understands what happened in the past, and how the risks and opportunities taken by the early pioneers ultimately shaped the industry as we know it today,” 

All these initiatives were inspired by his mother’s original vision to benefit Thailand and its hospitality industry as a whole.

Two years ago, Chanin decided to team up with Roy Howard, the original advertising manager of Thai Airways International, to begin work on a charity book project designed to unearth significant facts about people like Chanin’s mother whose foresight and hard work in the early days of Thailand’s tourism industry. Her dedication has already paved the way for the success it enjoys today. 

“Howard and I hoped to preserve their stories for new generations of Thai hospitality workers who should understand how the industry was started, who started it, and the risks these pioneers had to take when the industry was in its infancy,” said Chanin.

The result is a full colour, glossy book entitled Thailand Tourism: The Early Days, which is being distributed for free to schools, colleges and universities offering tourism, hotel management and culinary programmes in Thailand. 

Written by journalist and lecturer Steve Van Beek, and edited by Howard, the book examines the people, places, institutions, hotels and agencies which have all played a key role in the development of Thailand’s tourism industry since the 1950s.

Among the key figures profiled in the book are His Serene Highness Prince Bhisadej Rajani, President of the Royal Project Foundation; Lt. General Chalermchai Charuvastra, founder of the Tourist Organization of Thailand; Niels Lumholdt, former Executive Vice President of Thai Airways International; Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, founder of Bangkok Airways; Thanpuying Chanut, and many other pioneers of the hospitality industry. 

“We did our best to feature as many influencers from 60 years ago as possible,” Chanin said. 

The book is available at Asia Books and all Dusit hotels in Thailand, priced at Bt1,500. All proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Royal Project Foundation.

Sponsors of the book include Bangkok Bank, Boon Rawd Brewery, Central Group, Chiva-Som International Health Resort, Jim Thompson, Siam Piwat, Thai Airways, and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

A free digital version of the book, available in English and Thai, is also available at


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