Centara Hotels and Resorts Company belongs to Central Pattana Company (CPN), one of Thailand’s most affected businesses by the anti-government protests. Central Pattana not only runs its Centara hotels subsidiary but also Central Department Stores and Central World shopping mall. Both of the latter have been closed for two weeks due to the Red Shirts’ occupation along Rachaprasong Road in the Bangkok commercial center. Chris Bailey, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Centara, unveils his vision of Thailand’s tourism in these times of crisis.
eTN: How is the situation currently for your hotel group in Bangkok?
Chris Bailey: In contrary to what has been written in the Bangkok Post a few days ago, Grand Centara Hotel remains opened. Full service is offered to our guests except two specialty restaurants being closed. However, other outlets are opened. We decided to stay opened as the property is well secured with a specific road for access. However, our occupancy is sharply down to 12 percent. It still represents some 50 to 60 rooms, not such a bad performance with the current events!
However, our other properties are running extremely well. We transferred some guests to the Sofitel Centara Grand in Lat Prao, and this hotel is sold out. Our Pattaya resort shows also occupancy of over 90 percent, especially as some of the meetings originally planned in Bangkok have been transferred there.
eTN: Do you think that Bangkok will be able to recover?
Bailey: The situation is serious, and it really depends now how events will turn. The longer protests will go on, the more aware will be holiday-makers around the world about Bangkok’s situation. It will then become harder to convince guests to come back. It depends also very much about the treatment given to the protests in [the] international media. We have faced many crises in the last few years, and despite all of them, there is this incredible fact that Bangkok and Thailand have always bounced [back] more rapidly than expected.
eTN: Are they any plans to boost the destination?
Bailey: We will, of course, have to react to the current situation. Just bear in mind that tourism in Thailand is an industry providing some 3.5 million[s] of jobs. We will do our part by offering to tour operators discounted rates to support a tourism recovery for Bangkok.
eTN: What about initiatives from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)? Do you think that they reacted adequately to the current crisis?
Bailey: I feel that TAT has done a good job to inform travelers and the trade. But they do not have an easy task, as everyone from the public or private sector are screaming that they do not [do] enough. It is really difficult for them to balance ideally their marketing strategies between various markets around the world, mass tourism, and niche tourism.
eTN: Don’t you think that TAT should use the current crisis to promote more alternative destinations off the beaten track than its usual tourist destinations?
Bailey: Let’s be frank about [this] – the problem is that the industry will complain that TAT only cares for a niche market. And what about the enormous capacities which have been developed in areas such as Samui, Phuket, Pattaya, or Bangkok and which must be filled up? Frankly, TAT must deliver numbers to please the entire industry and other political forces.
eTN: What would be your suggestions then to TAT for its future post-crisis campaign?
Bailey: The crisis could be a catalyst for a true change in Thailand’s image. The campaign “Amazing Thailand,” slogans such as the “country of smiles,” look frankly outdated. TAT must think seriously how they want to promote tourism over the next ten years and bear in mind that today, travelers are far more sophisticated.