BANGKOK — After weeks of some of the most severe rains and flooding Southeast Asia has seen in decades, media attention zeroed in on Bangkok, where questions about whether and how the city would defend itself against a possible flood surge brought tourism to a near standstill.
Now, the rains have stopped and the floodwaters have started to recede. And a week and a half ago, Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declared that inner Bangkok would be spared.
“It’s certain the inner zone of Bangkok will be safe from the floods, as the measures to hold floodwaters have been successful,” Shinawatra declared in a report in the Bangkok Post.
But the damage to Thailand’s tourism industry during the weeks of uncertainty has been done.
During the high season, for instance, the Grand Palace, one of the city’s main tourist attractions, might see upwards of 10,000 to 20,000 visitors a day, according to a local tour guide.
A month ago, that number had dropped to as little as 1,000 visitors per day. As the threat of a flood surge retreated, the tourists are starting to return, with the Grand Palace now welcoming around 5,000 to 6,000 visitors per day, the guide said.
Every aspect of the city’s tourism industry has felt the drop-off. Hotels throughout the city have had to temporarily cut back on staffing as occupancy numbers dwindled in the wake of the floods.
In the end, the residents of the city are paying a much higher toll than its visitors as they continue to pump water out of their streets and homes in the outlying residential areas and along Bangkok’s canals.
Areas still flooded in the Bangkok metropolitan area include suburbs in the east and west, the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and districts in the northern part of the city, the Tourism Authority of Thailand reported last week.
But most of the major tourist sites and destinations around the city are dry, are expected to remain so and are almost completely unharmed. In fact, there are parts of the city, such as the central business district, where one would be hard-pressed to find any signs of the flooding at all.
As for sites and hotels along the river, such as the Temple of Dawn and the Peninsula Hotel, there is a smattering of reminders of the threat the river posed not more than a couple of weeks ago.
Sandbags, for example, remain stacked along the banks, seemingly unwilling to let down their guard. And pumps can be seen dumping excess water from unseen sources into the river.
Floodwater is receding in many districts of Bangkok, including the Chatuchak district, where the Chatuchak Weekend Market is located, the tourism authority reported. The market itself is not flooded and recently reopened after being closed down for several weeks.
On Nov. 20, the market was one of the most uplifting areas of the city, as Bangkok’s youth and tourists alike were out in full force, spilling out into the market’s winding alleyways to the point that only the most determined could successfully do their bidding.
But as Thailand looks toward tourism recovery in the aftermath of the flooding, it’s just that level of determination the city needs to reignite its tourism economy.