The Tourism Authority of Thailand – Leaders in Destination Resilience
Many travel industry leaders and global media “experts” assumed that after the tragic passing of Thailand‘s long reigning monarch, King Bhumibol in October 2016, tourism to Thailand for the remainder of 2016 would enter a steep decline. The figures released by the Thai government a few days ago on inbound tourism to Thailand in 2016 have proved the pundits wrong. In fact in 2016, Thailand welcomed just over 32.5 million tourists representing an 8.9% growth on the previous record level of 2015.
While Thailand is still observing a one year mourning period following the late King’s passing, the most intensive part of the mourning occurred in the month immediately following. The period mid October-Mid November 2016 did indeed result in the cancellation a number of events and during the month there was a slight drop in tourism demand. However, tourism to Thailand quickly recovered from mid November and ended 2016 on a surge.
Despite some event cancellations and some gloom and doom reporting from the world media, Thailand’s tourism kept flourishing. Much of the credit for this goes to the Thai Tourism Authority. The TAT is arguably the most resilient national tourism organization in the world. The TAT rapidly changed its marketing strategy after the King’s death to present a very different image of Thailand from the popular perception of party central to a country with a range of cultural , cuisine and scenic treasures. The TAT made it clear that international visitors were warmly welcome but that visits and visitors would be expected to show some restraint and respect. In effect it may have deterred some of the yahoo element but it opened up a new culturally sensitive tourism market to Thailand.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has earned a reputation as global masters of risk management. I have observed their work at close quarters in their successful management of Thailand’s tourism recovery from for the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsumami, the 2009-10 civil disturbances and the 2011 floods. The TAT has always been quick and accurate with messaging on the status of tourism in Thailand and has tailored its marketing approach during or after crisis events to instill confidence in both the travel industry which sells and promotes Thailand and the prospective customer. In Australia, in the wake of the King’s passing, The TAT’s office was quick to provide detailed briefings to the Australian and New Zealand travel industry, much of its via trade media outlets like ETB Travel News to let wholesalers, airlines and travel agents know about the status of tourism and events in Thailand. The marketing of destination Thailand underwent an instant change to reflect a less exuberant but still attractive and welcoming destination image.
The death of a long reigning and revered King could potentially have been a crisis for Thai tourism. However, the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s sensitive and professional management of the tourism fallout has turned the potential danger to tourism into an opportunity to re-image Thailand.