Thai’s tourism ma­chine kicks back into gear

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

TOURIST ar­rivals to Thai­land have not been hit by a strict mourn­ing pe­riod for late King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej, au­thor­i­ties said on Novem­ber 14, as curbs on en­ter­tain­ment and cel­e­bra­tion im­posed since his death one month ago were eased.

Bhu­mi­bol’s death on Oc­to­ber 13 af­ter a seven-decade reign has sparked mass dis­plays of grief and left the po­lit­i­cally di­vided na­tion with­out its only unifying fig­ure.

The junta, which seized power in 2014, in­sti­tuted an ini­tial month­long mourn­ing pe­riod, which lapsed on the full moon day.

In the last month Thais have worn black or white, bars have closed early, many sport­ing events and con­certs have been can­celled with tele­vi­sion net­works even or­dered to pull soap op­eras from their sched­ules.

The mea­sures had raised fears that tourists would be de­terred from vis­it­ing a coun­try renowned for its wild nightlife and care­free at­mo­sphere, just as peak vis­i­tor sea­son gets into swing.

But Chat­tan Kun­jara Na Ayud­hya, of the Tourism Au­thor­ity of Thai­land (TAT), said a tar­get set be­fore the king’s death of a record 32 mil­lion ar­rivals for 2016 – up from 30 mil­lion last year – re­mained in reach.

“So far num­bers have not dropped. That’s from the sur­veys we did and from num­bers from over­seas of­fices,” he told AFP.

“The gov­ern­ment wants life to go on and we also want that,” he added.

De­spite the month-long re­stric­tions on en­ter­tain­ment and cel­e­bra­tion, au­thor­i­ties have also struck a prag­matic note aware of the po­ten­tial to dam­age the cash-cow tourism sec­tor – a rare bright spot in an oth­er­wise gloomy econ­omy.

A sim­i­lar prag­ma­tism has emerged in the coun­try’s red light dis­tricts with venues turn­ing down the mu­sic and go-go dancers swap­ping their usu­ally gar­ish out­fits for black biki­nis and dresses.

Yet even with the eas­ing of re­stric­tions on en­ter­tain­ment, fes­tiv­i­ties are likely to re­main com­par­a­tively muted for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Thais marked the an­nual Loy Krathong reli­gious fes­ti­val on Novem­ber 14, a pic­turesque cel­e­bra­tion where mil­lions of can­dles are floated on rivers or lanterns re­leased into the air.

But fire­works have been for­bid­den, deemed not in keep­ing with the som­bre na­tional mood.

“Au­thor­i­ties will en­force ... the or­der ban­ning the light­ing of fire­works,” deputy na­tional po­lice spokesper­son Po­lice Colonel Kris­sana Pat­tanacharoen told re­porters, adding those who breach it face up to three years in jail.

In the north­ern city of Chi­ang Mai devo­tees and monks gath­ered to re­lease thou­sands of lanterns which floated sky­ward over the city.

The fes­ti­val usu­ally draws tens of thou­sands of tourists, but lo­cals said they were ex­pect­ing smaller crowds.

“Since he [the king] passed away business has gone down a lit­tle bit,” Tik Sri­rat, a ho­tel owner in the town told AFP.

“But as an owner I am not too con­cerned about it be­cause of the cir­cum­stances – we all feel deeply about the king.”

Many Thai web­sites on Novem­ber 14 also switched back to colour af­ter a month of adopt­ing mono­chrome tones. –

A crowd of sup­port­ers wres­tles a bal­loon into the air.

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