The devastating floods that have engulfed a third of the provinces in Thailand has wrecked the rice harvest and devastated the huge industrial estates of Bangkok causing an already tsunami damaged Toyota to cut back on their world production. It has also caused problems for thousands of small businesses throughout the affected areas.
The tourist areas of Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Koh Chang, Koh Samui and Phuket have been virtually unaffected. Why then is it that hoteliers in these areas are reporting figures way down on expectancy and massive cancellations?
The answer is simple; out of all the major airports in Thailand only Don Muang was reported closed, with extensive international television coverage showing Don Muang flooded with water covering the wheels of planes. This coverage that was syndicated throughout the world did not qualify that Don Muang was a secondary airport handling only domestic flights and that the majority of these flights were operating normally out of Suvarnabhumi.
CNN omitted to mention that Don Muang was secondary. The BBC world coverage did mention that Don Muang was secondary but then followed up with an embassy representative suggesting nobody visit Bangkok until further notice, again with no mention that all international and connecting flights were operating normally to all destinations on the tourist list in Thailand.
The tourist industry has suffered disasters every year for 5 years through SARS, bird flu, yellow shirts and the airport closures, red shirt riots and death and now floods. Last year a government representative haughtily described the tourism section of the economy as a fraction of GDP and that rice exports and manufacturing were what counted. Whatever the position is the point was missed that tourism is a huge major player in employment. Now that the rice fields are gone and manufacturing is under water, one would think that tourism would get the proper attention it requires. However, I have not witnessed one government representative on TV giving any information about anything. It would appear that all the major networks are uninformed about the normality of holidaying in Thailand regardless of the floods.
A few months ago it was announced that a huge amount of money, multi billions of baht, would be spent on tourism advertising to get past the political unrest. Where is it? All I have witnessed is a poorly produced ad regurgitating the turgid “Amazing Thailand” campaign. Meanwhile, Malaysia has done “Malaysia truly Asia” and Indonesia has produced the superb “Remarkable Indonesia” ad. There are also effective contributions from Korea and India.
People watch and respond to these ads and if they get the slightest hint of a problem in a country that is unexplained they will simply ring their agents and change plans in the blink of an eye. Thailand was top of the heap a few years ago and everything looked promising for this beautiful country’s tourism business. Sadly we are no longer on top and hopefully this flood will be a wakeup call for the government and TAT to get real and get active before it is too late.