As 100,000 tourists are stranded in Bangkok, trying to find a way to leave the country in a way of another, travel companies in Thailand showed already three weeks ago their worries at London’s biggest travel exhibition, World Travel Market (WTM). The deepening of Thailand’s political crisis was what the industry feared the most with few of them expressing by the time a rapid exit from the crisis. Their angst turned unfortunately into a real nightmare last week.
Most surprisingly, many of them show their complete despair about the way to resolve the current conflict. A unusual attitude for Thai people who are well known for their relaxed approach to life and their way to always hide their trouble behind a smile. At WTM, smiles had definitely faded out, giving ways to serious concerns about the future.
“We are fed up of those incapable politicians, unable to serve the interest of the people. The damage is getting greater every day” said a young hotelier based near Bangkok.
“Everyone now sees what years of political corruption can produce. This country seems to go nowhere,” declared an executive from a local airline.
Confronted to a worsening image- something very new for Thai people-, official institutions seemed unable this time to turn things around. Thai Airways was not officially present with a booth at WTM, an absence which could also be explained by the airline’s own financial troubles. And surprisingly, the Tourism Authority of Thailand kept an unusual low profile.
The tourism authority, who just launched in October its “Visit Year Thailand 2009,” did not organize any international large scale press conference, opting instead for a low key event with British journalists and then a lunch with invited Thai journalists.
TAT even refused to answer when asked why. “We do not have the finances for it,” dared to explain a TAT employee based in London… A questionable answer as TAT still organized a lavish dinner, mostly organized for the Thai tourism community, at the Dorchester graced by Royal Princess Ubol Rattana.
“Instead of doing high-profile events such as this dinner at the Dorchester, which only pleases Thai people, TAT should better invest its money in a good communication campaign on television,” complained a big incoming tour operator based in Bangkok who spoke on a condition of anonymity.
By keeping a low profile at WTM, Thailand’s attitude reflects strongly the way people try to solve problems. Or better said, try not to solve them. Swiftly sweep problems under the carpet -instead of confronting issues and probably address them- has always been the way Thai have adopted to withstand crisis.
But this time, Thailand’s projected negative image created by the political chaos is too sharp to be softened by usual methods. Clashes among local, the spectacular seizing of Bangkok’s two international airports as well as aircraft, the transfer of the government to Chiang Mai by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat give now the impression that the country has no government able to enforce the law. What visitors will remember is the fact that they have been taken as hostages by political factions at the airport. Opponents to the government sent indeed a strong signal: tourists to the country are not anymore immune from political violence. The damage done to the image of hospitable and gracious Thai people remains as the big question that is begging to be answered.