BANGKOK — Eager to assure international travelers that this city has returned to normal after weeks of political demonstrations turned deadly in April and May, Thailand tourism officials are busy promoting the destination’s most compelling attractions.
"I think that there is no better time to visit Thailand than this year because of the value for the money," said Juthaporn Rerngronasa, the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s deputy governor for international marketing. "And even though our country has had many political problems, we would like to tell the world that nothing can change the warmth and hospitality of the Thai people to overseas tourists."
During the two months of frequently violent anti-government protests in Thailand’s capital, 90 people were killed and nearly 2,000 wounded before the Thai army put down the rioting on May 19.
The prolonged uprising has since had a significant impact on the country’s tourism industry. According to the tourism authority, international arrivals at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport plunged 20% year over year in May. Visitors traveling to Thailand from the U.S. were off more than 25% for the month.
Hoteliers and operators have since slashed prices in an effort to combat dismal occupancy and bookings figures, not only in Bangkok but across the country, and the tourism authority has launched a series of global media events and online travel promotions aimed at restoring confidence in overseas markets.
On July 12, the tourism authority also kicked off what it called a summer "Mega Fam," hosting more than 500 international media members and travel agents here before sending them to destinations in northern Thailand and on the country’s east coast.
"Whatever happens politically in Thailand, I think it doesn’t really deter or distract any strength from Thailand as a tourist destination," the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s governor, Suraphon Svetasreni, said during a June 22 gathering of U.S. journalists in Bangkok.
During that June visit to the Thai capital, which included a tour through the district directly affected by the May riots, it was, in fact, difficult to find a great deal of residual evidence of the uprising. Much of the damage caused during the unrest was cleaned up within days by self-organized groups of Thais who volunteered for what is now referred to as "Big Clean-Up Day."
"The riots in Bangkok were indeed devastating," said Francis Zimmerman, general manager of the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa. "Yet they took place in only a very small section of the capital, with the vast majority of Bangkok and the rest of Thailand remaining unaffected by the trouble and continuing to offer the same peaceful, hospitable welcome to visitors as usual. Yet the international media at times painted a very different picture."
Concerns over future political problems persist, however. On July 6, a nationwide state of emergency first established on April 17 was extended in Bangkok and several northern provinces for another three months.
"The government still needs the tools to ensure peace, order and stability for a while," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quoted as saying in a July 6 Agence France-Presse wire report.
Even so, the price-cutting across Thailand and the public relations effort undertaken by the tourism authority does seem to be having an impact, at least from a visitor standpoint.
From June 1 through 27 this year, 540,788 international travelers deplaned at Suvarnabhumi Airport, which was down just 6.8% compared with the same period in 2009. It also represented a substantial improvement over May’s drastic declines.