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After the flooding, a time for recovery

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Nov 21, 2011

BANGKOK, Thailand (eTN) - The worst seems now over for Thailand and Bangkok. The kingdom has been confronted for over four months with some of the biggest flooding ever seen in the last fifty years. The situation took its toll on tourism, as images of flooded areas were shown on both televisions and social networks.

Tourist arrivals declined consequently by 25 percent, including in resort areas such as Hua Hin, Phuket in the south, and Chiang Mai in the north. Largely unaffected by flooding, those areas have suffered from images of roads blocked by flooding and images of a Thai Airways aircraft surrounded by waters. The picture was taken at the old Don Muang Airport – where Thai Airways has its maintenance facility - but it created confusion in people’s minds who thought that Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport was not operational. Many tourists then decided to switch destinations despite the fact that Suvarnabhumi never closed down.

Thailand’s situation is not completely back to normal. People living in Bangkok’s northern and western districts continue to live with their feet in the water. But water levels are gradually receding. Positive signs can be seen everywhere: shelves at supermarkets are starting to be filled up again, while shopping malls and Thai Airways headquarters in northern Bangkok have reopened.

“We are 100 percent operational,” confirmed Rashana Pimolsindh, Director of Communications at the Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok. The property was particularly exposed to flooding: located along the Chao Praya River, the hotel relocated some of its restaurants at the lobby level as safety remained a priority for the company. “However, we always stayed dry and permanently informed our customers on social networks,” she added.

In fact, inner city districts stayed dry with popular districts such as Silom, Sukhumvit, the malls of Rachaprasong, and Khao San Road unaffected by flooding.

Now that Bangkok’s inner districts are definitely safe and waters have receded on the city’s fringes, the Tourism Authority of Thailand just released its marketing strategy. TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni remains relatively optimistic, estimating that the impact on flooding might be relatively limited.

“If the flood situation is resolved at the end of November, we expect total international arrivals to drop by 220,000 with losses in tourist revenues reaching US$520 million, of which 275 million would come from international arrivals. If the flood situation is resolved by the end of December, international arrivals could decline by 300,000 with losses in revenues estimated at US$825 million,” he explained.

Mr. Svetasreni’s optimism relies on previous crises and the stunning way for Thai tourism to bounce back rapidly. TAT will concentrate its marketing efforts over the next months to first revive domestic tourism and then regional markets.

“We are looking to communicate and organize various marketing activities with airlines, hotels, and tour operators abroad to show that Thailand tourism is fully operational, except in Ayutthaya. But the situation for this city is improving as the restoration of temples and historical sites already started with a big cleaning day,” added the TAT Governor.

Priority markets for marketing activities abroad are China, Korea, Japan, India, the Middle-East, and Russia, while communication campaigns will be reinforced in most European markets.

“We will not get an additional budget for marketing efforts. However, we decided to re-affect some of our funds by adjusting our marketing resources market by market,” told Mr. Svetasreni.

What is the “positive” experience to be taken from the flood crisis? There is probably a need for all tourism bodies to think seriously at ways to communicate efficiently in crisis by not allowing confusion to settle in people’s mind.

“This is a lesson that we must learn,” acknowledged Opas Netraumpai, Vice President of Thailand Incentive and Convention Association (TICA), referring to Don Muang’s image of floods.

TAT Governor Suraphon Svetasreni will remember mostly Thai’s stoic behavior in adversity: “Even in the midst of the flooding, I was myself amazed to see that Thai people in Bangkok or other regions never lose their sense of humor and their smile. I am sure that this is something that people will remember.”

After the flooding, a time for recovery
Smiles are back for Thailand...

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