Thai­land’s tourism likely to weather king’s mourn­ing pe­riod

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Todd Pittman

BANGKOK>> Con­certs and colos­sal beach par­ties in Thai­land have been can­celed. An an­nual float­ing lantern fes­ti­val meant to pla­cate the coun­try’s god­dess of wa­ter will not take place.

And closed for the first time in years: red-light dis­tricts in the heart of the Thai cap­i­tal filled with seedy go-go bars so ir­re­press­ible they man­aged to stay open even through past mil­i­tary coups.

The death Thurs­day of Thai­land’s revered King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej has plunged this South­east Asian na­tion into an un­prece­dented pe­riod of mourn­ing, and it is likely to stay that way for some time.

But calm — not chaos — pre­vails, and the clo­sures are un­likely to last more than a few weeks or have any se­ri­ous longterm im­pact on tourism or the coun­try’s stun­ning beach re­sorts, which re­main open.

While the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment has is­sued no spe­cific guid­ance to anx­ious for­eign­ers, Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha has made clear that life must go on. The gov­ern­ment de­clared Fri­day a pub­lic hol­i­day to give Thais a chance to grieve, but Prayuth said busi­nesses should re­main open to en­sure the na­tion does not “lose its cred­i­bil­ity.”

Tourism ac­counts for about 10 per­cent of gov­ern­ment rev­enue and 30 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year. It is among the few bright spots in an econ­omy that has slumped since the army ousted a demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment in 2014.

Bhu­mi­bol, who passed away at the age of 88, was monarch for 70 years — so long that most Thais have known no other. He was deeply beloved, and his loss was felt na­tion­wide, vis­i­ble in the tears of mil­lions of res­i­dents who dressed in black and revered him as a fa­ther fig­ure. On Fri­day, thou­sands of tear­ful mourn­ers gath­ered out­side Bangkok’s gold-gilded Grand Palace, one of the na­tion’s top tourist at­trac­tions, to await the ar­rival of the king’s body in a royal pro­ces­sion at the Tem­ple of the Emer­ald Bud­dha, or Wat Phra Kaew.

The gov­ern­ment de­clared a one-year mourn­ing pe­riod to­gether with a 30-day mora­to­rium on state and of­fi­cial events. It also urged peo­ple to re­frain from or­ga­niz­ing en­ter­tain­ment events for a month.

Canada called on its cit­i­zens to “re­frain from any be­hav­ior that may be in­ter­preted as fes­tive, dis­re­spect­ful or dis­or­derly,” while Bri­tain urged its na­tion­als to “re­spect the feel­ings and sen­si­tiv­i­ties of the Thai peo­ple at this time ... (and) wear somber and re­spect­ful cloth­ing when in pub­lic.”

The U.S. Em­bassy called on Amer­i­cans “vis­it­ing or re­sid­ing in Thai­land to join us in show­ing re­spect by main­tain­ing deco­rum dur­ing this ex­tended pe­riod of pro­found mourn­ing.”

No for­eign gov­ern­ment ad­vised its na­tion­als to can­cel trip plans.

De­spite a sub­dued at­mos­phere, most bars and restau­rants in Bangkok re­mained open late Thurs­day across the cap­i­tal, and al­co­hol flowed freely. Some, though, shut on their own or were in­structed to do so by au­thor­i­ties.

Bangkok’s Nana Plaza, a three-story com­plex of gogo bars filled with scant­i­ly­clad women that is pop­u­lar with sex tourists, an­nounced Fri­day it was clos­ing to “pay re­spect and mourn the pass­ing of His Majesty King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej the Great.” Soi Cow­boy, an­other prom­i­nent red-light dis­trict in Bangkok, was also shut.

In the cap­i­tal’s Thon­glor neigh­bor­hood, one busi­ness­man said po­lice or­dered his night­club to close and told him sev­eral other bars and restau­rants he ran needed to re­main low key.

“Con­certs, clubs, any­thing that makes a party must re­main shut. Restau­rants can still serve food and al­co­hol, but loud mu­sic is not al­lowed, no live bands,” he said, re­count­ing or­ders given by the po­lice. He asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause he feared au­thor­i­ties could shut his re­main­ing busi­nesses if he is seen as be­ing crit­i­cal.

On Thurs­day, Richard Bar­row, a Bangkok-based travel blog­ger, tweeted: “Many tourists ask­ing if they should can­cel their hol­i­day. Some ask if the sit­u­a­tion is dan­ger­ous. There is no rea­son at this time to can­cel.”

Still, some tourists’ plans to see par­tic­u­lar events may al­ready be ru­ined.

In the north­ern city of Chi­ang Mai, the city gov­ern­ment an­nounced the an­nual Yi Peng Fes­ti­val set for mid-Novem­ber — in which tens of thou­sands of lanterns float into the sky — has been can­celed.

On the is­land of Koh Phangan, or­ga­niz­ers of the renowned “Full Moon” party, which had been set to be­gin Oct. 17, called the event off.

And in Bangkok, a sold­out con­cert fea­tur­ing Bri­tish singer Mor­ris­sey, the for­mer front­man of The Smiths, was also can­celed.

Khaosod English, a lo­cal me­dia out­let which re­ported nu­mer­ous can­cel­la­tions in the cap­i­tal, of­fered pru­dent ad­vice to its read­ers for up­com­ing events: “Call ahead first.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Thai Royal Guard march out­side the Grand Palace Fri­day, prior to a re­li­gious cer­e­mony for the late King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej in Bangkok, Thai­land. Bhu­mi­bol, the world’s long­est reign­ing monarch, died on Thurs­day at the age of 88.

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