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19 Aug, 2016

Attacks in Thailand: Visitor arrivals on upturn already

Bangkok – Arrivals to Thailand are again heading upwards, barely a week after the Aug 11-12 bomb and arson attacks in various tourist destinations of Peninsula Thailand. The turnaround is a strong indicator of visitor confidence in the Thai tourism industry, and the diminishing global impact of low-grade, one-off attacks on travel & tourism.

Daily figures posted by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports showed that arrivals are up strongly at five of the country’s top international gateway airports. The lowest point was on Aug 16 with a small turnaround on Aug 17 and a much more rapid swing upwards on August 18.

Several reasons are being cited for the rapid turnaround: 1) Bangkok was not affected; 2) The casualty toll of the attacks was comparatively low; 3) The Olympics is continuing to garner global headlines; 4) The role of social media in balancing information flow to visitors and offset the impact of bad news; and 5) Rapid response of the entire tourism industry in reaching out to potential visitors and convincing them to proceed with their visit.

The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau reported earlier that no major MICE events have been affected.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 6.25.25 PM

Source : Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Thailand

Mrs Sukanya Janchoo, General Manager of the Dusit Thani Bangkok hotel, who is also chairman of the Thai Hotels Association marketing committee and VP of the Thailand Incentive & Convention Association, released the text of an interview she conducted with the Voice of America earlier on Aug 19. Her comments:

What has been the initial reaction following the bombings in the south?

Firstly, I would like to express the condolences on behalf of the entire tourism industry, and especially the hotel sector, for the acts of violence and the casualties they caused. Both Thais and foreigners were innocent victims of these senseless, and we share the grief of their families, colleagues and friends.

The initial reaction has been of shock and sadness. We hope and pray that the Thai security authorities will be able to track down the culprits and that the Royal Thai government will be able to address whatever underlying root causes that lead people to resort to such senseless violence.

Are Thai hotels in the regions facing cancellations of any magnitude?

Yes, they are, but nowhere near the magnitude of previous such incidents. In terms of business impact, obviously the cities and provinces where the attacks took place have been more affected than others. Bangkok has been virtually unaffected. Other parts of North and Northeast Thailand have also been largely unaffected.

How do you expect the tourism business to respond to the latest troubles?

The tourism industry has responded very well. Thailand has been through many such crises in the past, from military coups and political confrontations to tsunamis and health pandemics like SARS. We now have some very professional response programmes ready. And the travel & tourism industry comes together very very quickly to ensure a rapid and robust response. The most important thing is to maintain visitor confidence and assure them that these events are very much the exception. Thailand experienced such an incident in 2015 too. We still got just under 30 million visitors last year. This year, the projections were for 33 million. Assuming that the rest of the year passes without any global, regional or international incident, we should be able to attain that target.

Are there any estimates at present of the economic impact the industry may be facing from the incidents?

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has estimated a downturn of about 200,000 visitors. I think that is a pretty accurate assessment.

What do you think the outlook will be if there are no further incidents in the coming months leading up to the high season?

The outlook is positive, overall. I think tourists have become very clever, flexible and sensible in reacting to these incidents. The role of social media is also becoming a very positive factor. People now have the ability to cross-check and verify everything they may be exposed to in the mainstream media. Once they get an alternative perspective, and can be assured by their respective host hotels that the situation has returned to normal, they usually choose to go ahead with their vacation rather than go through the hassle of making cancellations, getting refunds and making bookings elsewhere.