Thailand remains one place where terror attacks have not affected tourism
By Jamie Biesiada
August's bombings in Thailand hit five provinces, killing a handful of people and injuring several dozen. The attacks appeared to target popular tourist spots, like Phuket. But they seemed to have had little, if any, effect on U.S. tourists heading there, a result of factors ranging from scant media coverage to the fact that the Islamic State (ISIS) was not involved.
Thailand is no stranger to disruptions. In late 2013, government protesters took to the streets of Bangkok in an attempt to shut down the city, and in 2015 a bomb killed 20 people outside a shrine in the city. Yet people in tourism there say business has proven resilient.
"There have been some troublesome times in the recent history of Thailand, but what they've shown us is how resilient Thailand's tourism industry is," said William Haandrikman, general manager of the Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit.
Haandrikman said that the recent bombings, which occurred two hours from Bangkok, did not impact the capital as much as the 2015 bombings or the 2014 government protests.
"[The recent bombings were] really isolated to one weekend, and the perpetrators were quickly apprehended," he said, adding that "tourism in Thailand is still on the rise, and we have more repeat guests."
In recent years, travel to Thailand has steadily increased. Data from Trisept Solutions via VAX VacationAccess, used by more than 70,000 agents in the U.S., show that Thailand shopping has increased 120% since 2015. Bangkok is the top destination in Thailand, with 50% growth, followed by Phuket, up more than 200%.
Jim Augerinos, president of Perfect Honeymoons, said sales to Thailand are strong and that it is a popular choice for first-timers to Asia and more economical than the Maldives, Bora Bora or Fiji.
"I have been noticing, definitely, a ton of requests for Thailand in the past couple of years just because people know that it's a good value," he said. "But yet, you can still get the exotic beach vacation, mixed with culture, Thai food, riding elephants, beach and snorkeling."
Even the week right after the bombings, Augerinos said, he had at least three Thailand requests.
"Maybe it's a distance thing," he said. "Maybe people pay more attention to all the bad stuff happening here in the States and the stuff in Europe, because it seems to get more press. When something happens in Africa or Asia, you don't hear about it as much on our news, but if something happens in Paris or there's a school shooting or some type of shooting here in the States, that gets front and center."
G.W. "Sandy" Ferguson, managing director of Asia Desk, a travel consultancy firm, also said Thailand is a steady destination. He said bookings dropped last month for October and November, but later sales were solid. However, he attributed the dip to the U.S. election, a trend he has noticed every four years.
Ferguson also pointed out that the Thailand bombings did not receive nearly the media coverage in the U.S. compared with the terrorist attacks in France, for example.
The bombings are also not believed to have been related to ISIS. "I think people are much more spooked by ISIS than they are by this," said Catherine Heald, CEO of Asia-bound tour operator Remote Lands, based in New York and Bangkok.
Remote Lands had several groups in Thailand at the time of the bombings, and several others were scheduled to head there just days after. Heald said that no clients changed their plans.
Kendra Thornton, president of Royal Travel and Tours, was in Bangkok at the time of the bombings and after the incident traveled to a Thai island, Ko Kut. She said her group did not adjust its itinerary based on the attack, and the bombings have had no impact on clients' interest in Thailand.
When issues there arise, Haandrikman said, guests look for "some reassurance." In response, he and his team conduct "lobby ambassador shifts" making themselves available to "talk face-to-face with guests, answer their questions and find out their concerns."
"Our team has been equipped with crisis training," he said. "Which is really centered around communication."
Data from Trisept Solutions show Bangkok is the top destination in Thailand, with 50% growth, followed by Phuket, up more than 200%. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.