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All about smiles, smiles and smiles

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Sep 05, 2011

BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) - The “Land of Smiles” has been a slogan officially or unofficially associated with Thailand for some 30 years to describe the country. The charming smiles gracing Thai persons when meeting a foreigner have been cleverly turned into the country’s trademark by the Tourism Authority of Thailand in the past. Despite being replaced in the mid-nineties by the slogan “Amazing Thailand,” TAT continued to adorn its brochures and posters with a stylized smiling face of a Buddha until a decade ago.

The slogan might look a little bit old-fashioned today, in a time where tourism is increasingly turning in many areas into an art of business. Travelers chatting on the web in various blogs and travel websites seem, in fact, to be aware that the famous Thai smile might sometimes not be as genuine as it seems, especially in commercial destinations such as Phuket, Pattaya, or Bangkok. It is often said that there are over 40 interpretations to the Thai smile. Of course, it can still mean that people feel happy about something. But it can also be interpreted as a sign of confusion, embarrassment, and even anger! The smile is indeed a tool to avoid losing face in front of others.

Despite the contradictory meaning of the Thai smile, this still makes a strike among Thailand’s travel professionals when looking at catchy slogans. A sign of lacking creativity by recycling overused slogans? This is a possible explanation. But over the last three to four years, many companies have put the word “smile” back into service, even at the worst time to use this word. The best example is the tourism department of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration which launched “Bangkok City of Smile” in early 2009. The very creative slogan followed the seizure and blockade of Bangkok airports in December 2008, which brought so much smiles on passengers’ faces unable then to fly back home during those ten days.

Mentioning airports, it must be noticed that for a year now, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport bears the slogan of “Airport of Smiles." Launched last October, it was followed by training courses for staff reminding them to provide services to passengers with a smile. However, it does not seem that the message went across the board at immigration counters where overwhelmed officers rarely smile to visitors entering or leaving the kingdom.

And now this is the time of Thai Airways. Good looking smiling flight attendants have also long been part of Thailand’s national carrier's advertising image. And smile will be the official name of the new semi-budget airline that will take off by the middle of next year. After looking at naming the airline “Thai Wings,” “Thai Smile Air” was finally chosen by the airline’s employees. The airline will start operations with four leased Airbus 320s with its fleet comprising ultimately 11 aircraft. The carrier will initially fly to domestic destinations such as Chiang Rai, Khon Kaen, Surat Thani, Ubon Ratchathani, and Udon Thani before expanding into regional destinations by 2013.

The only one to be likely to lose its smile is Tiger Airways, the Singapore low-cost carrier engaged into a joint venture with Thai Airways for the establishment of a budget carrier to serve the lowest fares segment in the market. “There is little chance now that this airline might one day take-off, as Thai Airways is unlikely to have the resources to set up two carriers at the same time,” explained a Thai expert on air transport. But that is another story for another day.

All about smiles, smiles and smiles
Genuinely smiling at this age. Thai kids in Satun, Southern Thailand / Photo by Luc Citrinot

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